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Art Museum & Center For Craft Reopenings Make For Monumental Week In Asheville Arts Scene

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio
The Asheville Art Museum reopens this Thursday

This is a monumental week for Asheville’s arts scene. The Asheville Art Museum reopens this Thursday and, two days later, the Center for Craft reopens. Both are emerging from major renovations.

BPR's Arts and Culture producer Matt Peiken sat down with BPR's Matt Bush to explain the significance of the reopenings for the Asheville area.

BUSH: Why are these reopenings so important?

PEIKEN:  In terms of the visual arts, no two institutions in Western North Carolina rival their reach and impact. The renovated Asheville Art Museum sits at the epicenter of arguably Asheville’s most trafficked intersection, at the Broadway entrance to Pack Square. So in terms of sheer visibility, it’s the city’s most prominent cultural institution. And the renovated Center for Craft, just a quarter-mile north along Broadway, is positioning itself as a national outlet for contemporary craft practice and scholarship.

BUSH:  Let’s talk a little more about the Art Museum. It’s been closed for three years for this renovation. What can we expect with this reopening?

PEIKEN: Gallery spaces have more than tripled, so there will simply be much more art on view. While more of the permanent collection will see sunlight, the most exciting and important exhibition is called “Appalachia Now.” It features contemporary work from 50 living artists across Southern Appalachia, and it stamps the museum as a major outlet in touch with artists from this region.

There’s also a new cafe and rooftop terrace, a hands-on art-based center for children and a multi-purpose space that will house performances, lectures and other events. And it’s simply a beautiful building with an intriguing mix of natural materials. 

But the open question, at least in the minds of many longtime locals, is whether the museum will become more of an active player in the regional arts scene. It isn’t difficult to find people who are critical of the museum’s curatorial history — they say exhibitions of the past weren’t very daring or forward-thinking. So maybe one upside of closing for three years is an opportunity to rebrand with locals, and “Appalachia Now” is a great first step.

BUSH:  And what’s going on at the Center for Craft?

PEIKEN:  Leaders there want to sort of play a game of twister: They want to regularly exhibit cutting-edge craft, which is something they did before closing for its renovation. But by expanding their gallery spaces, they can now house more than one exhibition at a time. And at least in the initial offerings, you might see some of the works — such as several photography — and ask “How does this fit into the realm of craft?” Well, curators at the Center are working to expand our definition of craft, so it’s up to them to make the case.

The Center also wants to appeal to academic circles as a research destination and as a craft think tank — those are their words. And now they have the space to do all three.  They have a new “innovation hub” with a library, conference rooms and lecture hall. And they’ve created a new revenue stream by offering co-working spaces on the second floor. Also, over the next few months, passersby along Broadway will see the in-progress installation of shimmering, chalky mosaic tiles in varied shades of blue covering the facade of one wall. It’s a piece called “Liminal,” designed by Penland artist Ian Henderson.

BUSH:  What do these reopenings mean for the Asheville arts scene, as a whole?

PEIKEN:  Let me put them into context. You might remember, the Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center moved a little over a year ago to the north side of Pack Square. So along with the Asheville Art Museum and Center for Craft, all within easy walking distance of each other. You can park your car in one spot, tour all three in a day and have an experience I would argue is unrivaled anywhere else in the southeast.

Of course, the Blue Spiral Gallery has long anchored its massive home a couple blocks south of the art museum and Momentum Gallery will soon move from Lexington Avenue to a 16,000-square foot space within eyeshot of the Center for Craft. So Broadway is quickly becoming a cultural corridor for high-level contemporary art.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.