As only a small mountain town with a population of about 1,400 circa 1880, the city of Asheville was much different than the expanded city it has grown into today. In October of that same year, the first railroad line was established along the French Broad River, paving the way for Asheville to expand from its status as only a name on a map to becoming a connector between the rest of the state and the region of the South.
Spurred by the advancement of the train tracks, Asheville grew industrially along with the rest of the country. Factories were implemented as new technology was introduced and the city’s population grew. When practices evolved, the old industrial buildings that were initially the foundation of the city were no longer needed.
Warehouse Studios was the first business to open in the former railroad area in 1987. The 1990s saw an influx of inspired artists, and since then, the district has grown into a center for businesses, restaurants, and various art forms. More than 150 studios and artists have established themselves in the 25 buildings of the River Arts District coalition, making the area into the diverse location it is today.
While the River Arts District is widely known as a popular tourist destination, students also appreciate the area’s lure and uniqueness. Senior and AP Art student Caroline Hardy is an Asheville native and values the fact that her hometown is connected with a place of such diversity.
“My favorite thing is the graffiti. Every time I go to the area, there are always added pieces. I think it’s unique, and you don’t really see that in other cities,” Hardy said.
The recent spread of outdoor expressionists, or graffiti artists, plays a large role in the lure of the area. Graffiti is illegal in the city of Asheville and is regarded as vandalism, but in the River Arts District, muralists are welcome. Many businesses and building owners commission artists to paint murals in order to add character to their walls. Artists work with each other and paint around existing pieces to create intertwining images.
While many of the district walls are painted on by commission, The Foundation Walls Project is a space just past The Wedge restaurant where anyone willing to acquire a permit and follow some guidelines is legally allowed to add the art they wish.
As of Jan 6, Twelve Bones Smokehouse moved to a location very close to the Foundation. The new restaurant now resides in a building that is over 100 years old, which once held a tannery. According to co-owner Bryan King, the transition made them feel like pioneers in a new frontier.
“The area has a lot of artistic expression going on. That’s one of the things that make the River Arts District special. We are definitely embracing our new community as much as we can,” King said.
12 Bones is the newest addition to the 12 restaurants and breweries in the district. Aside from a diverse food selection, the area is also home to over 15 different studios and many individual artists working with different mediums such as paint, glass, metal, clay and ceramics.
English teacher Helen Smith has lived in Asheville for 22 years and thinks that the district and the artist studios add an element of authenticity to the city.
“I love the fact that you can actually see the artists creating their pieces. You can see them work on it, and you can see the finished product. Being able to watch that process was just something I had never experienced before,” Smith said
The riverside community has hopes to expand and implement more space for artists to paint, create, and communicate with the rest of Asheville and visitors.