The Arts in Asheville

Art, Crafts, Galleries, Theatre, Music and Dance


“To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art.”

                                      --Charles Bukowski


The arts in Asheville have a rich past, a vibrant present and a promising future. Whether it’s the visual arts, crafts, music, dance or theatre, Asheville is magnetic and dynamic. Especially notable examples are highlighted in RED.


Black Mountain College

Black Mountain College was one of the biggest things ever to happen to the Asheville area, but at the time few people paid any attention. It is only in retrospect that it became clear that the radical, experimental college was a major force in American arts and culture of the 20th century.


There’s little point in going into the details here of the struggles of the college from 1933, when it was established by disgruntled former faculty members of Rollins College in Florida in rented quarters at Blue Ridge Assembly near Black Mountain, until 1957, when it whimpered to its end at Lake Eden northwest of Black Mountain.


Many of the details are mired in the college’s financial morass, academic politics and intellectual backbiting.


Even at its peak in the 1940s, Black Mountain never had more than 90 students at one time. Perhaps 300 people taught at the college over the course of its 34 years.


What is important to understand is that there were two distinct and separate impacts of the college, impacts that eventually reverberated nationally. One was in the visual arts. Through its faculty and students, Black Mountain College helped develop some of the major art movements of the 20th century, including abstract impressionism and performance art.

The other impact was more diffuse, and more about personal freedom, lifestyle and pop culture. It led directly to the Beat Movement and then indirectly to the watershed years of the 1960s – hippies, drugs and rock n’ roll.


In the 1930s and 40s, refugees from Nazi Europe and from America’s Babbittvilles came to Black Mountain College, attracted by its free spirit and experimental environment. The faculty and student body (sometimes it was difficult to tell one from the other) included some who would become the great abstract artists of the century such as Robert Motherwell, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland (an Asheville native), M.C. Richards, Robert DeNiro Sr. and Josef and Anni Albers. Avant garde composer and musician John Cage and dancer Merce Cunningham collaborated on the first “happenings,” the beginning of performance art. Buckminster Fuller, who taught engineering at Black Mountain, created his first geodesic dome at the college. Albert Einstein was on the school’s board and lectured at the college. Max Dehn, the noted German-American mathematician, taught at the college for seven years.


Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school of architecture (Josef Albers had been a Bauhaus instructor in Germany), designed buildings for the Lake Eden campus, though the college never had the money to construct them.


Another prominent architect and architectural historian, Lawrence Kocher, did design and manage the construction, in great part by students and faculty, of the Studies Building, called “the Ship.” It is still a striking building today.


In its later years, especially in the late 1940s and 1950s, Black Mountain became better known for its poets and writers than for painters, musicians and performers. Charles Olson, the intellectual (and physical) giant taught at the college, founding the so-called Black Mountain School of poets.


Among Olson’s students were poets Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, Jonathan Williams and Ed Dorn, and Village Voice columnist Joel Oppenheimer.


Openly gay novelists James Leo Hirlihy and Michael Rumaker attended Black Mountain, as did filmmaker Arthur Penn. Alfred Kazin, William Carlos Williams and Henry Miller lectured there.


Through the little magazine founded by Robert Creeley, Black Mountain Review, which early on published Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the college developed a connection with the Beat poets in San Francisco, and with the larger Beat movement in the 1950s.


The college’s radical approach to education inspired a number of experimental colleges, including New College, Goddard College, Bennington, Warren Wilson College (located in Swannanoa near Black Mountain) and Shimer College in Chicago.


The communal lifestyle, sexual freedom and experimental approach to education and life at Black Mountain College undoubtedly, if not always admittedly, contributed to the radical changes that took place in American culture in the 1960s.


For an in-depth look at Black Mountain College, read Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain, An Exploration in Community. First published in 1972, it remains by far the best book on Black Mountain. See Resources section.



Today, with some planning, you can visit the two campuses of Black Mountain College and imagine what it was like to be a student there.  Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Downtown Asheville has exhibits on the college, puts on lectures and presentations and publishes monographs and books on Black Mountain.


Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (120 College St., Asheville, 828-350-8484,, open 11-5 Mon. and Wed.-Sat., admission fees vary depending on event, exhibition or conference) has the mission of preserving and continuing the unique legacy of educational and artistic innovation of Black Mountain College. In a new location that opened in 2018, it does a big job with programs, publications and exhibits.


YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly (84 Blue Ridge Assembly Rd., Black Mountain, 828-669-8422, was the original home of Black Mountain College. The college occupied what was then calledd Robert E. Lee Hall (the name was changed to Eureka Hall in 2015) and some other buildings on the religious retreat’s 1,200-acre grounds for about eight years. The YMCA hosts many programs at the Assembly, but normally you can visit the Assembly grounds without charge. Directions: Blue Ridge Assembly is about 14 miles east of Asheville. From Asheville, take I-40 East to Exit 64, Black Mountain/Montreat and turn south on Highway 9. Proceed about .5 mile and go straight on Blue Ridge Rd. Travel .9 mile and turn left at small Blue Ridge Assembly sign, then proceed to Assembly entrance.


In 1941, Black Mountain College moved across the valley to Lake Eden (375 Lake Eden Rd., 828-686-3885, Rockmont for years operated as a 550-acre Christian camp for boys. It is now under new management as Lake Eden Preserve.

Permission should be sought in advance to visit the grounds of the preserve. The exception is during events sponsored by the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, when the former college site is open to the public. {Re}Happening is an annual event that began in 2009, inspired by John Cage’s 1952 Theatre Piece No. 1, considered by many to be the first Happening. It features performance events, food and drink at Camp Rockmont, usually in March.


Also, in fall 2021, in partnership with the Lake Eden Preserve, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center began offering twice-weekly tours. One-hour tours will the lower campus buildings including the Dining Hall, Lodges, Quiet House, and Studies Building as well as the recently conserved frescos painted by Jean Charlot and BMC students in the summer of 1944. Tours cost $15 plus tax, free for those 16 and under, and must be booked in advance.


Among the original buildings from the college’s time are the Studies Building (“the Ship”), the dining hall with a large meeting room, the Round House (where musicians practiced) and two residential lodges. The Ship and other buildings are visible from Lake Eden Road. Twice a year, in mid-May and mid-October, the Lake Eden Arts Festival or LEAF (377 Lake Eden Rd., 828-686-8742, stages a weekend music and arts festival on the grounds of Camp Rockmont. Buy your tickets in advance as they always sell out.


Directions to Lake Eden:  From Asheville take I-40 East and exit at Swannanoa, Exit 59, to US Hwy. 70. Turn right toward Swannanoa/Black Mountain. Turn left at the first traffic light in Swannanoa to cross a bridge, then right on Old US 70. It is 1.9 miles to Lake Eden Rd., where you turn left at the traffic light. Go 1.5 miles and you will see Rockmont’s front gate on the left.


Asheville Art Museum (2 S. Pack Square, 828-253-3227,, which recently underwent a major renovation and expansion, has a collection of about 500 works on Black Mountain College and by artists associated with the college. Some of these are available for viewing in digital form on the museum’s website.


Western Regional Archives (170 Riceville Rd., East Asheville, 828-296-7230,; open to the public 9-2 Mon.-Fri., other times by appointment, free) in a building formerly used by the VA Hospital, is a branch of the Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. It houses various archives related to Western North Carolina history and culture, but currently about three-fourths of the archives focus on Black Mountain College. There are boxes and boxes of old photos, original BMC art work and college academic records.


Asheville River Arts District

What is now the River Arts District, a thriving and always-growing collection of art studios and galleries, plus business offices, restaurants, clubs, beer breweries and residential condos along the east side of the French Broad River near Downtown was once one of the region’s main industrial zones.  Now at least 300 working artists and crafts people have studio space in the “RAD,” as it’s often called.


You can visit the River Arts District in your car (there’s lots of free street parking), by public transit (buses W1 and W2 go to the RAD) or via the hop-on/hop-off Grayline Trolleys. There is a free trolley service to the River Arts District on the second Saturday of each month.

Anchored by the river and Southern Railway, the Riverside industrial area developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a center for tanneries, livestock sales, cotton and other mills, ice and coal houses, grain storage facilities and warehouses.


The worst flood in Asheville history in 1916 damaged many buildings in the low-lying river plain, but gradually the area recovered. Other serious flooding has occurred once every 10 or 15 year, including bad floods in 1928 and 2004 that damaged buildings in the Riverside area and Biltmore Village.


The Riverside industrial area thrived for several decades, but with changing economic conditions by the 1950s and 1960s many of the warehouses and businesses in the district had closed and were abandoned.


Wilma Dykeman, in her classic 1955 book, The French Broad, called by one critic “a love poem” to the river, laid out the history and importance of the 117-mile long French Broad, which flows north from its headwaters in Rosman, N.C., through Asheville to Tennessee, eventually flowing into the Mississippi. She presented a vision of what the then-polluted river could become again for the region.


In 1989, RiverLink, then known as the French Broad Riverfront Planning Committee, a group of volunteers interested in the preservation and enhancement of the French Broad River – notably Jean Webb, an Asheville native who became the first chair of the Riverfront Planning Committee (an Asheville riverside park has been named for her) and Karen Kragnolin, a lawyer who move to Asheville in the 1990s, formerly executive director of RiverLink (a park opening soon is also named for her) – came together under the auspices of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to develop a plan for the Asheville riverfront.


Volunteers, including experts from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Warren Wilson College, plus interested local organizations such as Quality Forward (now Asheville Greenworks), an environmental organization, and the Preservation Society of Asheville, in association with American Institute of Architects consultants, developed The Riverfront Plan outlining ideas for greenways and responsible riverfront development, mainly on the west side of the river. The plan is now called the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan, honoring the author and conservationist.


In 1991, Carolina Power & Light Company (today Duke Energy Progress) helped jumpstart redevelopment along the riverfront by donating to RiverLink a 1.9 mile-section of riverfront property on the west bank of the river for use as the first link in the urban riverfront greenway. The former Asheville Speedway stock car racetrack became a part of Carrier Park, now a popular site for walkers, joggers and bikers. Carrier Park is named for Edwin Carrier, a Pennsylvania entrepreneur who started Sulpher Springs resort near what today is Malvern Hills in West Asheville.


Also in the 1990s, Mountain Housing Opportunities, a community organization dedicated to affordable housing, became involved in what would become the River Arts District, helping fund renovations in the district and eventually redeveloping the old Glen Rock Hotel property across from what had been the Southern Railway Passenger Depot (see below).

In the 1980s and 1990s, artists and craftspeople rediscovered the former Riverside industrial zone, drawn by inexpensive rents for large industrial and loft spaces, perfect for studios. In an unusual development, some artists and craftspeople bought buildings and renovated them for their own studios, renting out space to other artists. Currently more than a dozen artists in the River Arts District own the buildings where they have studios.


Pioneers in the River Arts District include Brian and Gail McCarthy who moved their Highwater Clays business to the district in 1985 (they later bought a section of buildings on Clingman Avenue for their Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, now Odyssey Clayworks, and, later, Odyssey Co-Op Gallery), Lewis and Porge Buck, who bought an old warehouse and opened Warehouse Studios in 1987 and Pattiy Torno, who bought three buildings on Riverside Drive and opened CURVE Studios in 1989.


Today the River Arts District is home to hundreds of artists in more than two dozen buildings, most of which are open to the public. There also are art and craft galleries and at least a dozen restaurants, coffee shops and bars. A number of creative businesses such as ad agencies and design studios also have relocated to the area. Residential apartments are also available in the district.


The boundaries of the River Arts District are not strictly fixed, but generally the district is an area of about one mile by one-half mile bounded by the French Broad River on the west and Clingman Avenue and the Depot Street corridor on the east.  The north and south ends of the district are somewhat fluid.


Among the notable structures in the industrial area was the Han Rees Tannery on 22 acres at Lyman Street. The group of about 30 brick buildings, built around 1898-1902, housed massive tannery operations once among the largest in the country.


At one point Hans Rees employed some 3,000 workers and processed 30,000 pounds of cattle hides a day. You can imagine the stench! As the 20th century progressed, tanneries went into decline and by the 1940s Hans Rees and other Asheville tanneries were out of business. Several of the tannery buildings still stand, and the brick buildings with distinctive saw-tooth roof lines now are home to Riverview Station, at 191 Lyman Street, a community of about 50 artists and businesses.


Farmers Federation, a cooperative organization with the goal of improving agriculture in Western North Carolina, was established in 1920 by James G. K. McClure, whose family now runs Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview. Local farmers bought shares in the Federation, which purchased feed and seed and farm supplies and equipment at wholesale, selling them to members at discounted prices. The co-op also hatched and sold chicks and poults (baby turkeys). The Farmers Federation building on Roberts Street, one of several warehouses and stores operated in WNC by the organization, is now home to the original Wedge Brewery location (it now has a second location in the RAD) and Wedge Studios. The original six-story Farmers Federation building at 125 Roberts Street, considered fire proof, was destroyed in a fire in December 1925. James McClure’s wife’s paintings and many McClure heirlooms, stored in the warehouse, were consumed by the blaze, in which several carloads of beans and hundreds of turkeys were also lost.


The Asheville Cotton Mill was the industrial district’s most prominent building. Its towering smokestacks, visible from the Smoky Park Bridge (renamed the Captain Bowen Memorial Bridge after a firefighter who died in a fire on Biltmore Avenue) on the west side of Downtown, were symbols of the district. The 122,000 square foot building, occupying over 3 acres, was destroyed in a fire in 1995. It was arson, but the culprit or culprits were never found. (Another suspicious fire burned an empty part of the Cotton Mill in April 2013.) The fire, however, seemed to act as a catalyst for further revitalization of the River Arts District. One part of the Cotton Mill that was not destroyed in the fire was bought and renovated by Eileen Black, a potter from Greensboro, and her husband, Marty Black, turning the building into the Cotton Mill Studios.


Asheville Stockyards were a fixture of the region’s agricultural life from the 1930s to 1970s.  New Belgium, a leading national crafts beer brewer, built its $140 million East Coast brewery and distribution center at the site of the old stockyards. You can take a free tour of this remarkable brewery and sample the many crafts beers brewed here.


The Southern Railway Roundhouse, built around 1926, is among the few surviving railroad roundhouses in the South. Southern Railway was the successor to the Western North Carolina Railroad, the original railroad in the region. In 1982, Southern merged with the Norfolk Railroad to form the Norfolk Southern Railway. The Roundhouse at 70 Meadow Road is still in operation.


The Southern Railway Passenger Depot on Depot Street was one of two hubs of railroad passenger service in the region, the other being the Biltmore Depot on Brook Street in Biltmore Village. (During the Vietnam War days, this writer took a train between Fort Riley, Kan., and Asheville, arriving and departing from Depot Street).


Across from Southern Railway Passenger Depot was the Glen Rock Hotel, built of wood around 1890 in the Queen Anne style. It was condemned as unsafe in 1929 and rebuilt in 1930, designed by Asheville architect Henry Irven Gaines, later to become one of the founders of the Six Associates architectural firm.


By the early 1970s the Glen Rock had become a home mostly for derelicts and then for a time was occupied by a food canning business. Passenger service to Asheville ended in 1975, and the Depot Street passenger terminal, sadly, was torn down by Southern Railway.

Today, Glen Rock Depot is a multi-use development with residential, commercial and office space. It consists of the 372 Depot Building, a 90,000 square-foot building with 60 affordable housing apartments and 9,000 square feet of commercial space.



Here are some of the largest and best studios and galleries in the River Arts District. For more information, visit the website of the River Arts District Association (RADA) at where you can download a 40-page booklet on the district or call 828-552-4723. A printed brochure on RAD is available at the Asheville Visitor Center, at most hotels and B&Bs and at business in the district.


A district-wide “Studio Stroll” is held annually in November, when nearly all studios are open, many with special sales, free refreshments, entertainment and demonstrations. “Second Saturday” events are held on the second Saturday of each month, with artist demos and free refreshments. Most studios are open year-round. Admission is free, so you can see the artists and craftspeople at work and buy art and crafts direct from the source.


310 Art Gallery (191 Lyman St., #310, River Arts District, 828-776-2716, in Riverview Station in the RAD displays paintings by about 17 Western North Carolina artists.


Cotton Mill Studios (122 Riverside Dr., 305-968-1300, has eight studios with a number of artists in textiles, photography and painting. It also has a cidery and a music venue.


Curve Studios (6, 9 and 12 Riverside Dr., 828-388-3526, is home to about 10 artists in jewelry, clay, photography and chair caning.


Marquee (36 Foundy St., 828-989-1069, bills itself as a “design-centric market place” in a 50,000 square foot former warehouse. You can find clothing, wine, interior décor, art and vintage gear and junque.


Northlight Studios (357 Depot St., 828-423-4567, is home to several painters and a metal artist.


Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, which opened in 1994, was one of the pioneering studios in the River Arts District. It has now grown into three sister ceramic organizations, all focused on pottery and ceramic arts: Odyssey Center for the Ceramics Arts Gallery (238 Clingman Ext., 828-505-8707, is a collective of nearly 25 juried clay artists who operate a co-op gallery exhibiting and selling their work. This is one of the best places in the region to buy high quality functional and art pottery. Odyssey Studios (238 Clingman Ave. Ext., offers rental clay studios and display space. Odyssey Clayworks (236 Clingman Ave. Ext., 828-285-0210, has clay classes and workshops, plus it has some rental studios and a gallery area for student sales. Altogether, some 100 ceramic artists and students are at Odyssey, the largest concentration of clay artists in one place in the region. There is free street parking along Clingman and nearby.


Pink Dog Creative (342-348 Depot St., houses more than two dozen artists, including jewelers, painters, photographers and potters. Pink Dog Creative Gallery and Fresh West Wood Fired Pizza and Vivian restaurants are also located here. The artists’ studios have irregular hours but are all open on Fridays and Saturdays. Free parking across street.


Rite of Passage + Sew Co. (249 Clingman Ave., and is two businesses offering a “slow fashion label” and a sewing com-pany offering design, pattern and production of sewn items.


Riverview Station (191 Lyman St., 828-575-2211, is a community of about 60 artists, craftspeople and entrepreneurs. A small café and an art gallery, 310 Gallery are located here. Riverview Station also houses The Village Pot-ters Clay Center, Art Garden, Gallery 104, Tyger Tyger Gallery, Grail Movie House, Newstock Pantry and others. Lots of free parking.


Roberts Street Studios (140 Roberts St.) is home to a woodworker and the North Carolina Glass Center, a nonprofit with daily demos.


The Village Potters Clay Center (122 Riverside Dr., River Arts District, 828-252-9122, is a pottery studio and gallery operated with seven potters in Riverview Station in the River Arts District. It has studios, classes, 13 kilns and Laguna Clays Distribution Center, which sells clay and pottery tools.


Trackside Studios  (375 Depot St., 828-545-2904, is home to about 20 working artists, photographers and others. Open daily.


Warehouse Studios (179 Lyman St.) has seven artists in painting, jewelry, textiles and paper.


Wedge Studios (111-129 Roberts St.) has about 30 artists, mostly painters and pot-ters. In the same building complex as the original Wedge Brewery, one of Asheville’s most popular craft breweries.


This is only a partial listing of the studios and galleries in the River Arts District.


Asheville Area Art and Crafts

Asheville was named the number one small city in America for art by AmericanStyle magazine in 2011 and tied for number two in 2012.


Other top five small cities included Sarasota, Key West and Bradenton, Fla., and Santa Fe, N.M.


Several thousand artists and craft artists live in the Asheville area and around Western North Carolina.



With a tradition of hand-made crafts going back hundreds of years, the presence of several nationally known crafts schools and crafts organizations, a huge influx of talented craftspeople to Asheville and the region and the opening of many first-rate crafts galleries, the Asheville area has become one of the top crafts centers in the United States.


The area has particular strength in pottery and ceramic arts, glass, fabric arts and wood.


Center for Craft (67 Broadway St., Downtown Asheville, 828-785-1357,, gallery with exhibits open daily 10-6, free) reopened in November 2019 after a year's renovation of the Center's 1912 building. Besides exhibiting regional crafts, the Center for Craft acts as a National Craft Innovation Hub serving craft makers, researchers and others. There is also co-working space for rent.


Folk Art Center (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 382, 828-523-4110,, Jan.-Mar. 9-5 daily; Apr.-Dec. 9-6 daily, free), headquarters of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, is a terrific place to see historical and contemporary mountain crafts. There are three crafts galleries, craft demonstrations and an Allanstand Craft Shop, which sells quality local and regional craft items.


North Carolina Homespun Museum (111 Grovewood Rd., 828-253-7651,, Apr.-Dec. Mon.-Sat. 10-5:30, Sun. 11-5, closed Jan.-Mar., free), a part of the Historic Grovewood Village at the Omni Grove Park Inn, focuses on the history of Biltmore Industries and its wool cloth. Biltmore Industries originally was a weaving and woodworking education program started by Edith Vanderbilt of the Biltmore Estate.


Southern Highland Craft Guild (Folk Art Center, Milepost 382, Blue Ridge Parkway, 828-298-7928, Begun in Asheville in 1930, and second in age only to the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the Southern Highland Craft Guild is one of the preeminent craft organizations in the country. It represents more than 700 craftspeople in nine Southeastern states.


Guild membership is based on a juried process. The Guild operates the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway (see above) along with several other first-rate crafts shops. Two of the shops are in Asheville, in Biltmore Village and on Tunnel Road, and one is at Moses Cone Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 294 near Blowing Rock. Twice a year the Guild puts on the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, with about 200 craftspeople exhibiting in the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville (see Festivals section).



Crossnore Weavers (100 DAR Dr., Crossnore, 828-733-4660,, Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery open Mon.-Fri., 9-5, Sat. 10-5, free) near Linville is a “working museum” of weaving. It is an outgrowth of a boarding school for impoverished children established in 1913. Today, local women still weave blankets, scarves, napkins and other items. Many items are sold on-line. The Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery, located in what formerly was the weaving room, sells regional art and crafts to support the school.


The Blair Fraley Sales Store, located on Crossnore’s Avery campus, is a large second-hand and resale shop that helps support Crossnore School & Children’s Home. Miracle Grounds, a specialty coffee shop selling organic coffees, is nearby, with profits also going to the school.


Directions: From Asheville, take I-40 East to Exit 105 Morganton. Go north on Hwy. 181 about 30 miles to Pineola at the intersection of Hwy. 181 and US Hwy. 221. At Pineola, turn left on US Hwy 221 S and go 1.5 miles, then turn right onto Crossnore Dr. Go .6 miles and turn right onto Johnson Ln. at the Blair Fraley Sales Store. Crossnore Gallery is third building on the left.


John C. Campbell Folk School (1 Folk School Rd., Brasstown, 828-837-2775 or 800-365-5724,; campus open daily during daylight hours, Craft Shop and Loghouse Museum open Mon.-Sat. 8-5 except Thur., when hours are 9-6, Sun. 1-5, free) dates to 1925. The nonprofit school, in the far western part of the state near Murphy about two hours from Asheville, offers hundreds of weekend and longer classes for adults in everything from blacksmithing and basketry to cooking, quilting and woodworking. Work-study programs that cover student tuition are available.  Students can live in school housing and take meals at the school.


The Craft Shop has items from some 300 local and regional craft artists, and the Loghouse Museum is a small museum of mountain crafts with information on the school’s history. The work of school co-founder Olive Dame Campbell is celebrated in the 2000 film Songcatcher.  The campus is a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors are welcome to explore the 300-acre campus on a self-guided tour during daylight hours. A campus map can be downloaded from the school website.


Directions: From Asheville take I-40 West to exit 27, US Hwy. 19/23/74. Take 23/74 to Waynesville/Sylva. At Exit 81 take US Hwy. 23/441 south to Franklin.  In Franklin, the US Hwy. 441 Bypass merges with US Hwy. 64 west. Follow US Hwy. 64 West from Franklin towards Hayesville. Eight miles west of Hayesville, turn left on Settawig Rd. (a brown Folk School sign points in that direction). Follow the signs to the Folk School.


Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts (49 Shelton St. at US Hwy. 276, Waynesville, 828-452-1551,; open May-Oct. Tue.-Sat. 10-4, admission $6, students $5, guide tours on the hour from 11 to 3) is located in Shelton House, a two-story white Charleston-style farmhouse built in 1875 and now on the National Register of Historic Places.


 The house alone is worth a visit. The museum has exhibits of regional folk art, pottery, baskets, quilts, weaving and other crafts. On the 4-acre grounds also is a Pennsylvania Dutch barn that dates to 1916. Nearby is the HART Performing Arts Center and 8 acres of gardens and green space.


Penland School of Crafts (67 Doras Trail, Penland, 828-765-2359, Gallery 828-765-6211,; campus open daily March-early Dec., Gallery open March-early Dec., Tue.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5, free admission) is arguably the best crafts school in the country. Penland, on 460 acres in a beautiful rural area near Spruce Pine about an hour from Asheville, offers one-, two-and eight-week adult workshops in clay, books and paper, metals, glass, photography, printmaking, textiles and wood. Students live on campus in simple, rustic dormitory facilities. Around 1,400 students take classes at Penland each year. Most classes are oversubscribed, with waiting lists.


The school has no standing faculty; instructors are rotating full-time studio artists and college professors. Visitors are welcome on the Penland campus, although teaching studios usually are closed to the public during classes. The Penland School Gallery, which exhibits and sells the work of present and former students and faculty, most of it of very high quality and some of it extraordinary, is open to visitors from March to early December. Visitors are welcome to walk through the grounds. Note especially Craft House, one of the largest log structures in North Carolina. You can also visit The Barns, which houses the studios of the Penland's resident artists, fulltime craftspeople who live and work at the school.


There also is the Penland Coffeehouse (828-765-1083, open Mon.-Sat. 9-5, Sun. Noon-5, shorter hours in winter), which sells Asheville’s Mountain City Coffee Roasters coffee, and a gift shop. Free guided tours of the campus are offered March-early December at 1:30 on Wednesdays, reservations necessary – call 828-765-6211. If you’re visiting Penland, you may want to stop at some of the nearby craft studios.


The area around Penland is home to about 100 craft artists. Watch for signs of open studios and galleries. An annual auction in August to support the school usually raises about a half million dollars.


Directions to Penland: Take US Hwy. 19/23 (future I-26) North past Mars Hill, then take Exit 9. Stay on US Hwy. 19 towards Burnsville. This road will become US 19E (do NOT take US Hwy. 19W). Go through Burnsville and continue about 10 miles.

Turn left at the green Penland School sign onto Penland Rd. (a BP gas station is on the right). Follow Penland Rd. for 3 miles, when you will cross a bridge and railroad tracks. One mile past the railroad tracks, bear left at the big curve onto Conley Ridge Rd. Go all the way up the hill to Penland.


Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual (645 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, 828-497-3103,; Jun.-Aug. Mon.-Sat. 8-7 and Sun. 9-5 pm, Sep.-May Mon.-Sat. 8-4:30, Sun. 9-5, hours may vary seasonablly) is the nation’s oldest Native American cooperative, dating to 1946. The mutual co-op has more than 250 members. This is not a souvenir junk stand but a gallery of mostly high-quality crafts by master Cherokee crafts artists. The Qualla showroom displays and sells only locally handmade Cherokee crafts, including baskets, pottery, dolls, masks and woodcarvings. There also are exhibits of crafts that are not for sale.





Asheville and environs has around 40 art galleries, plus another 25 or more galleries that focus primarily on crafts.  The art galleries and studios are concentrated in the Downtown and River Arts District areas, with some in Biltmore Village ( and Kenilworth ( and a few in surrounding towns including Black Mountain, Weaverville, Hendersonville, Highlands and Brevard.


Of course, the line between art and crafts is difficult to define and even more difficult to mark. Some craftspeople create work that is at least as skillful and expressive as that of the best painters and sculptors.


However, for purposes of this guide we have attempted, whether successfully or not, to divide those galleries that lean toward more functional work in ceramics, wood, jewelry, glass, fabric and other media and those that are inclined toward the traditional fine arts of painting and sculpture.


Downtown Art Walks are held the first Fridays of the month a year from spring to fall at around two dozen Downtown galleries, with many exhibit openings and appearances by artists. A brochure on art galleries is published by the Downtown Asheville Art District, and a copy can be downloaded from their website at


Most studios and galleries in the River Arts District are open to the public, with varying hours. Visit where you can download a booklet and map on the district.


Here is a selection of some of the larger and better galleries. See above for galleries and studios in the River Arts District.


American Folk Art and Framing (64 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-281-2134, is a gallery devoted to the work of contemporary folk artists, plus the work of potters, jewelers and sculptors. Founded in 2001, the gallery hosts a half dozen art openings a year. It also has a wide selection of frames. Open daily year-round.


Ariel Craft Gallery (19 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-236-2660, is an artist-owned and run gallery next to Mast General Store with about nine member artists in ceramics, wood, glass, furniture and jewelry. It was established in 2002.


Asheville Gallery of Art (82 Patton Ave. Downtown Asheville, 828-251-5796, was established as a co-op gallery in 1988. It moved to a larger space on Patton Avenue. It has more than 30 artist members, mostly painters, who exhibit and sell their work at this gallery. It is open daily, staffed by its artist members.


Bender Gallery (29 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-505-8341,  is a contemporary art gallery featuring more than 20 regionally and nationally known painters, sculptors and other artists.


Benjamin Walls Fine Art Gallery (38 Broadway St., 877-989-2557,, in the Windsor Boutique Hotel, sells art by the conservationist owner and other artists and has a wine bar.


Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-251-0202,, founded by the late arts entrepreneur John Cram, Blue Spiral often is considered the premier gallery in Asheville and is one of the largest, with 15,000 square feet of space. It exhibits the work of leading contemporary artists and craftspeople from Asheville and all over the South, with some 15 shows annually. The gallery represents more than 100 artists.


East Fork Pottery (15 W. Walnut St., Downtown Asheville, 828-575-2150, is a production pottery, turning out thousands of bowls, mugs and plates, but its downtown Asheville store, open daily, is worth visiting for its wide selection of the popular functional pottery. East Fork began with a wood-fired kiln in an old tobacco barn in Madison County and grew into a corporation with more than 100 employees, many of them turning out pottery by hand.


Grand Bohemian Hotel Art Gallery (11 Boston Way, Biltmore Village, 828-398-5555, in the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Biltmore Village is one of a group of seven galleries operating at hotels in this small upscale chain. Among the items for sale are representational art works, jewelry and photographs.


Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Rd., Grovewood Village, North Asheville, 828-253-7651, on grounds adjoining the Omni Grove Park Inn is a large (9,000 square feet) high-quality crafts gallery showcasing furniture, jewelry, fiber, glass and ceramics by about 400 craftspeople from around the country. Grovewood also has a sister gallery inside the Grove Park Inn.


The Haen Gallery (52 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-254-8577, has works by about 45 contemporary national and international artists. The Haen Gallery also has a location in Brevard.


Kress Emporium (19 Patton Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-281-2252, features the work of around 80 local and regional craftspeople and artists who rent sales space in the 1928 terra cotta-faced, colorful Renaissance style building that one housed a five-and-dime store. Kress is not air-conditioned, so it can be warm in summer.


Lexington Glassworks (81 S. Lexington Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-348-8427, is a glass blowing studio and gallery. Artists in the 5,000 square foot space have frequent demonstrations of glass blowing.


Momentum Gallery (52 Broadway St., Downtown Asheville, 828-505-8550,, one of the newer galleries in Asheville, shows contemporary work with an emphasis on emerging and mid-career artists. It has a satellite location in Durham. Jordan Ahlers is the owner and director of Momentum.


New Morning Gallery (7 Boston Way, Biltmore Village, 828-274-2831 or 800-933-4438,, another John Cram venture in Biltmore Village established in 1973, has garden art, jewelry, ceramics, glass and other crafts, all carefully selected and nicely presented. Most are moderately priced. There’s limited covered free parking next to the gallery.


Seven Sisters Craft Gallery (117 Cherry St., Black Mountain, 828-669-5107,, in downtown Black Mountain since 1981, has work by about scores of local and national craft artists in ceramics, wood, glass and other media.


Stuart Nye Handwrought Jewelry (940 Tunnel Rd., East Asheville, 828-298-7988 or 800-456-1933, has been a fixture in East Asheville since 1933. The distinctive Stuart Nye and affordable jewelry, made from silver, copper and brass, often features designs based on local flora such as dogwood blossoms, oak and maple leaves and pine cones. Nye jewelry also is sold in other stores.


Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St., Downtown Asheville, 828-254-9234, is billed as the largest crafts gallery in the area, with work in clay, fiber, metal, glass, paint and other media, by more than 150 craft artists in 20,000 square feet of air-conditioned and heated space. The former five-and-dime store, with terra cotta facing and Art Deco motifs, originally opened in 1939. Inside Woolworth Walk is a functioning old-fashioned soda fountain, heavy on the stainless steel.



Asheville has a thriving street art scene. Here are some of the most interesting mu-rals in the city:


North Lexington Avenue at I-240 Overpass Bridge, Downtown Asheville: At the foot of N. Lexington, this is arguably Asheville’s best-known mural. By Molly Must and other artists, it illustrates some of the city’s history.


Chicken Ally, Off North Lexington, Downtown Asheville: Also by Molly Must, this mural focuses on Asheville’s honeybees and poultry.


Aloft Hotel, 51 Biltmore Avenue, Downtown Asheville: A combination ceramic tile and paint mural on the side of the Aloft Hotel is by artists Alex Irvine and Ian Wil-kinson, aka Ian the Painter, done as part of a city public art project.


River Arts District: The RAD has a lot of graffiti art, with some of the best of it is along Lyman Street and near Foundy Street near 12 Bones and Marquee Asheville and also near White Duck Taco on Riverside Drive.


236 Clingman Extension, River Arts District:  Near the entrance of Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts and Odyssey Gallery for the Ceramic Arts is a striking three-dimensional ceramic mural by Alex Irvine and Kathy Triplett.


783 Haywood Road, West Asheville: On a busy street in West Asheville is a trib-ute to Dolly Parton and RuPaul by prolific street artist Gus Cutty.


265 Haywood Road, West Asheville: Near Archetype Brewery, this portrait of Joan of Arc is by Ian Wilkerson, using his daughter Ella as a model.




Despite Covid, live theatre is going on somewhere in the Asheville area all the time.  For up-to-date calendar of theatre, music and other arts events, check out Mountain Xpress weekly newspaper.


Here are some of the drama companies and venues:


Asheville Community Theatre (35 E. Walnut St., 828-254-1320,, founded at the end of World War II (Charlton Heston was a manager of the theatre in 1947) is one of the oldest community theatres in the country. It puts on about a dozen quality productions annually, some on the Main Stage and some at its smaller black box theatre, 35 Below. Main Stage tickets are around $18-$30, with discounts for seniors and students.


Asheville Puppetry Alliance (North Asheville,, established in 1998, produces puppetry shows for both adult and children’s audiences. In 2019, the Alliance merged with the Street Creature Puppet Collective. The Collective runs a “Puppet Clubhouse” located at the North Asheville Community Center (37 Larchmont Rd., North Asheville, open to the public Wednesday nights from 7 to 9 pm.) The group hosts festivals, workshops and puppetry slams.


Flat Rock Playhouse (2661 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock, 828-693-0731, is the official State Theatre of North Carolina, though the state provides only 2% of funding. The theatre draws some 100,000 patrons a year to its original 468-seat Main Stage, a barn-like (but now air-conditioned and comfortable) theatre in Flat Rock, dating to 1952. Flat Rock puts on around a dozen productions a year, all highly professional and featuring many Equity actors and often elaborate sets. Many of the

productions are musicals or comedies. The theatre also operates a college apprentice and intern residence program in the summer and fall. Tickets for productions are around $45-$65, with a variety of discounts available.


Haywood Arts Regional Theatre (HART, Performing Arts Center at Shelton House, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville, 828-456-6322, is a community theatre in Waynesville that stages about six to eight main productions each year, plus about five studio productions. Tickets are around $20-30, with discounts available. Season passes are available from $160.


Masonic Temple (80 Broadway St., Downtown Asheville, 828-239-0928,, though still a functioning Masonic temple, in recent years has been opened to the public as a venue for plays, music, weddings and other events.

The exterior of 1915 four-story brick building Downtown, designed by the firm of Smith & Carrier, is something of a conglomeration of styles – Romanesque and Beaux-Arts with Greek Revival classical touches in the Ionic columns over the entrance. Inside, there’s a 270-seat horseshoe-shaped theatre with balcony and orchestra seating.


Montford Park Players (92 Gay St., Montford District, Asheville, 828-254-5146, is known for its Shakespeare in the Park productions, the longest-running Shakespeare production in the state. The Players have a 20-week summer season, May to October, staging about a half-dozen productions at the outdoor Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre behind the Montford Recreation Center off Pearson Avenue.

Many bring a picnic to enjoy before the play. Alcohol is permitted for adults 21 and over. All actors are volunteers. Summer productions are free, though you need a ticket unless you are renting a lawn chair. A hat is passed at intermission, and you can donate online. A donation of $10 to $15 is suggested. Lawn chair rentals are about $10. Parking is free.


North Carolina Stage Company (15 Stage Lane, Downtown Asheville, 828-239-0263, puts on professional-level productions in an intimate 125-seat theatre. NC Stage, estab-lished in 2002, tends to do edgier, more innovative productions than most other local theatres, although is does popular plays like those based on P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves. An example was the staging of a new play about Buckminster Fuller, who was associated for a time with Black Mountain College. Tickets usually are around $26-$46, with some discounts available. Parking is available ($1.25 an hour) at two city-owned parking garages near the theatre.


Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART, Owen Theatre, 44 College St., Mars Hill University, Mars Hill, 828-689-1384, stages about six professional-quality productions annually. Some SART productions are classic Broadway and off-Broadway shows, but others have a connection with Appalachian culture. In most years at least one of the productions is a world premiere. Tickets are around $28-$32.


Theatre UNC-Asheville (Carol Belk Theatre, UNC-Asheville, 1 University Heights, 828-232-2291, and its drama department stages several productions annually. Long-time department chair and noted theatre director Arnold Wengrow, now retired, made a name for drama at the university.


Warren Wilson Theatre (Kettridge Theatre, 701 Warren Wilson Rd., Warren Wilson College, 828-771-3041, stages several productions each year in the 320-seat proscenium theatre.


Wortham Center for the Performing Arts (18 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-257-4530,, box office 10-4 Tue.-Fri. and 1 hour before perfor-mances) has three venues. The main theatre is an intimate 500-seat venue for music, drama and dance, with orchestra and balcony seating. The farthest seat is only 60 feet from the stage. A parking deck is attached to the theatre, though parking is pricey, and many restaurants are nearby. Wortham, which is the home venue for some 40 arts and civic organizations, also hosts national touring events.



Music and Dance

Beginning in the 18th century Scots-Irish settlers brought their folk songs, reels and Elizabethan ballads to the mountains, and “old-timey mountain music” with fiddles, mandolins, banjos and guitars is still heard in the hills today. Traditional songs such as “Barbara Allen,” “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Pretty Saro” were preserved by the isolated mountaineers. Today, a number of festivals including the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville (see Festivals section) celebrate the heritage of Appalachian mountain music.


In some ways, the 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of “hillbilly” music in the region. Radio stations such as Asheville’s WWNC (the call letters stood for “Wonderful Western North Carolina”), which went on the air in 1927, broadcast live the music of Jimmie Rodgers, often called the father of country music. WWNC also was one of stations carrying the “Crazy Water Crystals” program, which featured some 100 amateur country musicians from North and South Carolina.


Banjo picker Earl Scruggs (from Shelby, N.C.) and Doc Watson (born in Deep Gap, N.C., near Boone) with his flat-picking guitar style were among the pioneers of bluegrass music. WWNC Radio broadcast the first live session of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in 1939.


While far less popular than country and bluegrass, avant-garde and art music also have a history in the Asheville area. In 1952, at Black Mountain College, radical composer John Cage put on what was considered to be the first "happening." During the Black Mountain Piece, as it has come to be known, Cage was on a ladder at the side of the room reading various texts, Robert Rauschenberg's now-famous white paintings hung from the ceiling, composer and pianist David Tudor played the piano and radio and Merce Cunningham danced around the room. This was a precursor to  “4’33,” one of the most important avant-garde pieces of the 20th century. It was written by Cage and performed by Tudor. At a performance in Woodstock, N.Y., Tudor sat without playing in front of a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.


Noted Hungarian composer Béla Bartók spent the winter of 1943-44 in Asheville. Bartók completed his “Third Concerto for Piano,” also known as the “Asheville Concerto,” while residing at what is now the Albemarle Inn B&B (86 Edgewood Rd., North Asheville).


More recently, Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer and electronic music pioneer, moved to Asheville where he spent his final years. His company, Moog Music (160 Broadway, Downtown Asheville, 828-251-0090, is still in business in Asheville. The Moog store is open Monday-Saturday, and free factory tours are available at 10:30 and 3:30 Monday-Friday (call 828-239-0123 for reservations).


Asheville Ballet (4 Weaverville Hwy., North Asheville, 828-252-4761, headed by choreographer Ann Dunn, who has a ballet school, Asheville Academy of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. The Asheville Ballet has put on a holiday performance of The Nutcracker for nearly 50 years.


Asheville Chamber Music Series (performances held at Asheville Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 1 Edwin Place, North Asheville, 828-575-7427,, founded in 1952, has put on more than 280 classical music performances in Asheville by leading chamber ensembles including the Amadeus, Budapest, Julliard, Jupiter and Emerson Quartets, duos such as Janos Starker and Jean-Pierre Rampal and David Finckel and Wu Han, and other ensembles. Tickets are around $40 (those under 25 free), with a season ticket to five concerts $175. A sixth performance is at Diana Wortham Theatre, with tickets sold separately.


Asheville Choral Society (, founded in 1977, is a volunteer choral group with about 100 auditioned singers. It usually puts on three or four concert events a year, including a Yuletide concert.


Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre (20 Commerce St., Downtown Asheville, 828-254-2621, is a professional contemporary dance company and dance school that puts on up to 80 dance performances a year, in Asheville and elsewhere. ACDT owns the BeBe Theatre, a 69-seat black box theatre at 20 Commerce Street where most of the dance group’s productions are staged.


Asheville Lyric Opera (One Oak Plaza, #315, 828-236-0670, puts on two or three operas and other musical performances each year at the Diana Wortham Theatre and at the Masonic Temple. Most productions feature nationally known singers. Tickets are about $30 to $55, with discounts for students.


Asheville Symphony Orchestra (27 College Place, Ste. 100, Downtown Asheville, 828-254-7046,, founded in 1960, is a community orchestra of 80 to 100 musicians, depending on the concert. Robert Hart Baker, the Symphony’s first full-time conductor, led the ASO from 1981 to 2004, and during his tenure the Symphony grew in size and reputation. Today, the music director is Darko Butorac, who made his conducting debut with the Belgrade Philharmonic in 2011. The Asheville Symphony presents seven or eight concerts a year, each with a nationally known guest artist. Concerts are held in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium at U.S. Cellular Center. Single-concert tickets are $22 to $55, with discounts for students.


Brevard Music Center (349 Andante Lane, Brevard, 828-862-2100,, on a 180-acre campus near Brevard, is a summer music institute for high school and college students, and it puts on a nationally known summer music festival. Each summer, from mid-June to early August, the Center and its 500 talented high school and college students puts on about 80 musical performances for an audience totaling more than 30,000. Artistic director is Keith Lockhart, world-renowned conductor of the Boston Pops and a Brevard Music Center alumnus.


Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St., Downtown, 828-259-5544, in the U.S. Cellular Center (formerly Asheville Civic Center) with 2,431 seats is the venue for mid-size musical events and also for the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. Larger country and rock music concerts are held in the Arena of the U.S. Cellular Center. Although this is an old auditorium, acoustics in Thomas Wolfe are surprisingly good. The original Municipal Auditorium opened in 1940 and was renovated and renamed for the Asheville author in 1974, the same year the main Civic Center Arena opened. Seating has been upgraded in recent years. Still, it’s not up to top regional standards, and Asheville loses many concerts and other events to facilities in Knoxville, Charlotte, Greenville, S.C., and elsewhere.


WCQS Radio (73 Broadway St., Downtown Asheville, 828-210-4800 or 800-768-6698,, at 88.1 FM and other frequencies, is Asheville’s National Public Radio classical music station, programming classical music and NPR news, with jazz in the late evening and the BBC during the night. It is a part of Blue Ridge Public Radio, which also has an NPR News station, at 107.9 FM and other frequencies.





All content copyright © Lan Sluder except selected photographs used by permission and brief quotations or other fair use text, which are owned by the copyright holder.

We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.