We just got back from a trip to Asheville, NC. Here are some of my thoughts:
Although this is definitely a local economy that is based on tourism, it feels notably more authentic than our experiences visiting “downtown” Sedona, AZ and the villages in Lancaster, PA. Sedona is similar to Asheville in that it has also tried to promote art-based tourism, however the walkable downtown area is full of tourist giftshops that seems to be owned by only a handful of owners and all stock the same “made in China” merchandise (not local art). Lancaster, PA has mini villages that that carry a mix of folk-kitsch merchandise that is made locally, but the majority of which seems to be imported from non-local craftsmen and a lot of which is actually mass merchandise imported from abroad.
Asheville really took advantage of its existing downtown building stock. At one point, Asheville’s location on the Western North Carolina rail corridor made it one of the largest and fastest growing cities in NC (industrial revolution era). It has both industrial warehouse-type building stock as well as art deco style downtown architecture. Planning efforts were able to take advantage of this physical stock. Asheville wisely encouraged shared artist-studio/gallery space and banned retail chain stores in the downtown. These two efforts produced a markedly more organic and authentic arts-based downtown.
There are also different kinds of artist spaces that clearly range the gamut in terms of the initial investment that artists have to sink when attempting to show their work. I imagine this is important in attracting new artists because the “barriers” to entry are much lower. New artists can come to Asheville with a reasonable chance of making a living here. For example, Woolworth Walk was a shared gallery space where stalls could be rented. In artist cooperatives such as the Odyssey Center, workbench shelving doubles as a way to display finished pieces as well as store work in progress, materials, and tools. Other galleries, such as Curve are larger work/studio spaces that several artists share. The studio/gallery of Jonas Gerard was probably the other end of the spectrum: a huge single artist gallery and workspace, which Gerard himself completely opened to the public for viewing and demonstration. In some shared gallery space, wall areas in hallways are another low-cost way new artists might display their work without having to rent interior gallery space.
Trying to figure out how Asheville recovered from its post-industrial decline, I really enjoyed reading through these websites: