Will Asheville’s real ‘arts district’ please stand up?

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Asheville-North-Carolina-River-Arts-District-Studio-Stroll-LogoMy colleague Carol Motsinger at the Asheville Citizen-Times wrote an interesting story recently that I don’t want to let go by, because I think there’s something more going on, and I’m interested in your thoughts. Carol wrote about how the annual Asheville Art Walk has been rebranded as the Downtown Asheville Art District. (Click over to read about what else is new with the downtown walks.) It was a move to identify downtown Asheville as a destination for art galleries and their owners, who are responsible for many artists, according to Russell Medford ofArtEtude Gallery on Patton Avenue.


Medford celebrates the support he’s received from the downtown business community since opening ArtEtude in June. The idea to rebrand as a district emerged at a meeting a few months ago, he said.

“There were about 20 gallery owners who were in one room, and we realized we had quite a bit in common,” he said. “As they say, ‘Rising tides lift all boats.’ … We all share the same level of commitment to quality and business integrity.”

The Downtown Art District, he noted, is really a more commercial variation on the vibrant River Arts District down the hill, so to speak, from ArtEtude.

Even with the distinction Medford is making, it sounds to me like downtown Asheville is trying to stand in the glow of success that is the River Arts District, both as an arts destination and as a brand. Is this a good move? Is there enough of a distinction between the DAAD and the RAD>

I honestly don’t know the origins of the RAD name and branding effort, but I’m looking into it. Thoughts?

Image link for River Arts District.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Jonathan Wainscott April 25, 2013

    I recently saw space for rent at Pink Dog Creative going for $20/square foot. The days of large spaces for cheap rent are over. The RAD is moving into the next phase of gentrification. First phase is abandonment. Then artists move in and reveal beauty and potential through creativity and sweat. Then. Yuppies follow the artists, and then big money follows the yuppies. Downtown and the RAD are essentially the same thing now, or will be soon. Grassroots artists are pushed out by gallery owners and souvenir shops. As the the property owners in the RAD age, they will cash-out on their real estate investments.
    When I moved to Asheville from Chicago in 1998, I was in search of studio space for my woodworking business. I visited Grovewood gallery and asked if there was an industrial area that had old buildings with cheap rent. They had no idea what I was describing. At the time, Randy Shull was an artist in residence at the GovewoodStudios. Now he is the owner of Pink Dog Creative and renting space for rates totally out of range for artists.
    Say goodbye to the artists while you order your pizza.

    1. Big Al April 25, 2013

      I am sick of all of this entrepreneureal bashing that is labeled “gentrification”. Contrary to popular belief, Asheville is NOT the exclusive domain of hippies living in holes in the walls of old factories.

      Artists and investors who like paint, unboken window panes and working bathrooms are just as much citizens and stakeholders in this city.

      I have always found it ironic that so many lefty artsy “progressive” folk constantly bleat for more “tolerance”, then show a startling intolerance for progress.

      Until “Star Trek” world socialism finally defeats capitalism, art remains a business, and like any other business, it is “up or out” competititve: improve yourself or someone else will take your place.

      Having vented my spleen, let me say that I do like the RAD, but also like that it improves each year. I have never thought of downtown as an “Arts District”.

      1. jann gunn April 25, 2013

        Commercial accessibility/appeal just so happen to not be synonymous with “progress” and “improvement” for everyone. Art is not business. Art should be expression. Plainly art should transcend capitalism. Otherwise your just talking design.

        1. Big Al April 26, 2013

          Typical entitlement mentality.

          Art is expression (and a hobby) until you put a price tag on it, THEN then it becomes business, just like everything else that is bought and sold.

          1. yeppers April 30, 2013


  2. Ron April 25, 2013

    The one thing I love about the Asheville is how many artists there are here and how anyone can show there work. Truly amazing! Most places I lived you must be a well known,high end artist to get into a gallery. Stuff that is boring to me and way out of most folks price range.

  3. anon April 25, 2013

    I think instead of trying to steal our name, they should have come down and proposed doing something like in a real city….. like First Friday that happens city wide with trolleys that take you to all the participating venues – galleries and studios – and get this EVERY MONTH. Asheville needs to grow up and get it together. In the river we have “Second Saturday” which just confuses the hell out of people because they think its like “Studio Stroll” but its not, and “Studio Stroll” is only twice a year. Meanwhile downtown, they only have “First Friday” every other month for half the year.
    None of it makes any sense. Its inconsistent and confusing at best. Look at other cities, maybe we should steal from them instead of eachother.

    1. Miles Bender May 9, 2013

      The downtown art walks which started downtown I believe about 12 years ago have gone to a “First Friday” format starting this year. That is April through December. I am unclear, when did the RAD start doing Studio Strolls or Second Saturdays?

  4. John Ellis April 24, 2013

    After the Wayfinding signs went up, a friend who is a consultant in the arts field stopped for a visit to Asheville, as she frequently does, and saw the signs directing folks to the River Arts District, of which she was not aware. She wrote me and said “wow, you have two arts districts?” She always thought of downtown Asheville as an arts district so was surprised to see we had another. She went on to say “that is fantastic. Most communities struggle to identify just one arts centric district, and you have two.”

    So let’s celebrate the fact that we do indeed have two arts districts – with studios, galleries, clubs, restaurant, performance spaces and more.

  5. FDR April 24, 2013

    Ok folks, do this before talking about Art districts, Art shows, Art galleries and the like. Go see http://www.artisphere.us/

    Artisphere is an international art show with real artist and fine art. Not just a a hundred locals with a few decent ones. It is #7 in the country and right down the road. A show like that should be in Asheville and would generate a heck of a lot more tourism money then Bele Chere or Greenville. People like to visit Asheville for vacation, not Greenville.

    International and national juried shows are all over the country and draw outstanding artist. If Asheville can break away from the locals only crafts maybe we can put ourselves on the map as a place to visit for fine art.

    A great Fine Art show will bring galleries revenue year around.

  6. Ian April 24, 2013

    I think competing arts districts can do us a lot of good. Duke it out. It means more focus on the arts, which is always good, and quickly the consuming audience will decipher the difference, the values contrast, between the two.

    In the end, the tourists go downtown anyway. They just need to know that hitting downtown is no more a definitive experience of what our artists have to offer than visiting London would be a definitive experience of the British Isles.

    And the locals know the difference between art on a wall where the renter is paying $17+/sf and the art on a wall (or shelf or interactive experience) on the river.

    1. anon April 25, 2013

      Haven’t checked out studio rent on the river in a while apparently.


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