When my boss, Linda Wehrli asked why I chose to move to Asheville, North Carolina, she was not surprised to hear one of my first responses is, “Art!” I was intrigued to explore the city’s main art scene, the River Arts District. The RAD is a group of industrial buildings located near the French Broad River. Numerous artists have moved into the area to produce and display their works. When I suggested a blog about this eclectic organization, Linda enthusiastically agreed. I’m excited to share the story.

Here’s a brief history of how the RAD began, thanks to Wendy Whitson of the official RAD website.

The beautiful river that flows through Asheville into Tennessee is called the French Broad River. I was shocked to learn that it’s the 3rd oldest in America and 5th oldest in the world! The Norfolk Southern railroad began in the 1880s, which caused a huge influx in people to Asheville. It flows along the river, making this area a perfect place for heavy industrial buildings that needed national distribution for their products. Sadly, there was an historic flood in 1916, leaving the railroad and many buildings abandoned due to water damage.


Fast forward to the 1970s, businessman Bill Goacher and his wife acquired a number of properties as an investment in what is now called the River Arts District. He rented many spaces at very affordable rates to the displaced artists from downtown. Over time, as artists proved themselves to be good stewards of a building and showed interest in ownership, Bill selectively sold the property, setting an example which lives on today.

In the mid-1980s, the first art business, Highwater Clays, moved from the neighborhood, Biltmore Village to what is now the home of Gennett Lumber, on Lyman St. In 1987 Porge & Peter Buck purchased a building with the intent of creating studios, and named it Warehouse Studios. In a 1988 Asheville Citizen-Times interview, Porge, a printmaker, spoke of her artists and herself as “the river avant garde” entrepreneurs.


Warehouse Studios

Other notable artist pioneers include Steve Keull, who purchased 375 Depot in 1987 for his photography business. Pattiy Torno purchased what is now Curve Studio & Gardens in 1989. The buildings were originally the Standard Oil Co., built in 1916. In 1990, Helaine Green and her sister Trudy Gould rented what is now Riverview Station, built in 1902 as the Hans-Rees Tannery. They purchased it in 1996. Brian and Gail McCarthy purchased Clingman Ave. Complex in 1995, now home to Odyssey Center and Ultra Coffee. Cotton Mill Studios was built in 1887 as the Cotton Mill Corporation, purchased in 2003 by ceramic artists Marty and Eileen Black.


Cotton Mill Studios

Speaking of the Cotton Mill Studios, my lovely neighbor named Molly owns a store in the building called Kizmet Yogawear! I stopped by the other day and loved the zen vibes. With it’s beautiful, eco-friendly yoga wear, Buddha statues, and trinkets from all over the world, my boss Linda Wehrli and I might be purchasing cool things for Pastimes‘ zen studio!

I was lucky enough to move to Asheville in time for the RAD’s annual “Studio Stroll”. This is the largest RAD event where over 200 artists open their doors to the public. You can “stroll” in and watch the artists create work and purchase their craft, whether it be ceramics, jewelry, or paintings. The very first studio stroll was in 1994 and continues as a tradition today on the second weekend in November.

Since its early beginning the RAD has grown rapidly every year, experiencing a huge burst around 2005. Continuing the tradition, many of the buildings have been purchased by artists, who in turn convert the space to working studios and co-op spaces. If you get a chance to visit the RAD, please be sure to check out their Studio Guide. They also offer classes and virtual events. Did I mention it’s also a great place to run? There’s a new running and bike path right along the French Broad River. Art and nature, what can be better? #grateful

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Art Scene covers eclectic art events and locales.
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.

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