Local Arts History
The arts have continuously played a major role in our community’s development over the years. The timeline below captures over 120 years of highlights from our local creative sector. Also, sprinkled in you will see the beginnings of the arts council movement from the first arts council in Britain to the formation of the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States.
This is a work in progress, so be sure to check back from time to time. If you have suggestions for additional local arts milestones, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young Men’s Institute (YMI) establishes the first orchestra in Asheville. The orchestra was a 26-voice and 12-instrument ensemble directed by professor C.H. Baker.
Asheville Club for Women accepts artist Theodore J. Morgan’s plan for a new Asheville art museum, and The Pen & Plate Club incorporates to become the Asheville Art Association & Museum, Inc. with the intention to open the first art gallery in the state of NC
Writer Wilma Dykeman is born in Asheville and lived here much of her life up until her passing in 2006
On April 18, 1927, Jimmie Rodgers – one of country music’s first superstars – got his big break on Asheville radio station WWNC.
Well-known musician and folk historian Bascom Lamar Lunsford organizes performers to present traditional mountain music and dance to the public in this first iteration of what will become the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival
Asheville native Thomas Wolfe publishes his novel Look Homeward, Angel
Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild (now Southern Highland Craft Guild) is founded. For over 90 years, The Southern Highland Craft Guild has showcased the region’s finest craftsmen through exhibitions, craft shops, special events, and fairs.
Asheville Art Association Museum opens at the historic Zealandia castle on Beaucatcher Mountain. Zealandia was built in 1889 by John Evans Brown, after returning to Asheville from New Zealand. Sir Phillip S. Henry, an Australian born diplomat acquired Zealandia in 1908. His love of art inspired him to build a $70,000 art gallery on the estate, in partnership with the Asheville Art Association & Museum organization. Admission was free of charge and thousands of residents and visitors came to see Henry’s collection of artworks from the far corners of the world, along with local artworks.
Black Mountain College is founded in Black Mountain, NC at the Blue Ridge Assembly. Black Mountain was experimental in nature and committed to an interdisciplinary approach, prioritizing art-making as a necessary component of education and attracting a faculty and lecturers that included many of America’s leading visual artists, composers, poets, and designers.
The Asheville Artist Guild was formed, with the goal of putting on local art exhibitions. Anyone interested in art, music, dancing, or dramatics was eligible to join. Meetings took place on Thursday nights at the YMCA.
Thomas Wolfe “Asheville’s Favorite Son” passes. Wolfe is buried in Riverside Cemetery.
The first time the world heard Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys was February 2, 1939, at 3:30 pm when the group played a fifteen-minute segment on Mountain Music Time. At the time, WWNC was an NBC affiliate, owned by the Asheville Citizen-Times. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys played the daily 3:30-3:45 Mountain Music spot until April 1, 1939, when WWNC became a CBS affiliate and moved to the Asheville Citizen-Times building (now Citizen Vinyl).
The New Municipal Auditorium was built following the Great Depression with the support of the local public and the federal Public Works Administration (later to become Asheville Auditorium and eventually Thoma Wolfe Auditorium)
Black Mountain College moves to the Lake Eden campus
The Arts Council of Great Britain is created to provide “State support for the arts, without State control.”
Asheville Community Theatre founded. Tickets were originally just $1 and individual annual memberships were just $6. Their first production was the then broadway hit “Dark of the Moon”
Asheville Art Museum, Inc. is founded by the Asheville Artists Guild and opens its original location on Charlotte Street. This is different from the Asheville Art Association Museum at Zealandia.
Eunice Waymon (aka Nina Simone) attended Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, NC from 1948-1950.
March 10, 1948, Zelda Fitzgerald died in a hospital fire in Asheville. She and her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald were frequent visitors of the Grove Park Inn.
The Arts Council of Winston Salem & Forsyth County in Winston Salem, NC becomes the first arts council in the United States
Zealandia and the Asheville Art Association Museum on the estate are sold and the museum closes permanently
Civic Arts Council is founded (name changes to Asheville Area Arts Council in 2001), becoming the second arts council in NC and one of the first in the United States
Black Mountain College closes
Asheville Symphony Orchestra is founded, originally called Asheville Little Symphony
Tanglewood Children’s Theatre is founded. The first Tanglewood production was “The Ghost of Mr. Penny.” It was performed in November 1959 at the North Asheville Library.
Two separate city facilities were proposed, a Convention Center to support athletic events and a Civic Arts Center. The Civic Arts Center would have housed multiple arts organizations, including the Asheville Art Museum, Colburn Mineral Museum, Asheville Community Theatre, and Asheville Symphony Orchestra.
National Endowment for the Arts established by President Lyndon B. Johnson
Shindig on the Green is founded by Jackie and Earl Ward, Bob Lindsay, and Jerry Israel with the help of other Folk Heritage Committee members, as a place for musicians to gather and play on summer Saturday nights downtown, at City County Plaza.
The NC Arts Council is established by Governor Terry Sanford
A $5.3 bond referendum was passed to support the new Convention Center and Civic Arts Center projects ($1.3M for CAC).
City Council approved plans for the Civic Arts Center to be located on the corner of College and Spruce Streets and included a “750 seat theatre, art gallery and museum, art studio, classroom, rehearsal spaces for orchestra, drama, and ballet, meeting spaces, and ancillary areas necessary to support those activities.”
Due to increasing costs, Asheville City Council voted to combine the Convention Center and Civic Arts Center projects.
A lawsuit was filed against the city alleging the merged Convention Center and Civic Arts Center violated the intent and purpose of the 1967 bond referendum.
The Civic Center lawsuit was dismissed by the NC Supreme Court and an additional $3M bond referendum was passed to build the center. It was at this time that the Asheville Community Theatre pulled out of the project.
Montford Park Players is founded. It has become North Carolina’s longest-running Shakespeare theatre company.
Asheville Civic Center (Harrah Cherokee Center- Asheville) opens in its current location
The former Asheville Art Association Museum on the historic Zealandia estate is demolished to make way for I-240
Civic Arts Council merges with the Western North Carolina Arts Coalition (a group of individual artists and arts organizations) to form the Community Arts Council of WNC (name changes to Asheville Area Arts Council in 2001)
The City of Asheville hosts the first Bele Chere festival. This annual music and arts street festival held was in downtown Asheville. Over the years, it grew to become the largest free festival in the Southeastern United States, attracting over 350,000 people.
Downtown revitalization begins in Asheville. Asheville was like most other cities in the U.S., needing major renovations and repairs in order to boost the economy of the area. Asheville turned to the arts, investing in public art, festivals, and cultural institutions to breathe new life into a shuttered up downtown.
Planning begins for the Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center in downtown Asheville (now home to the Asheville Art Museum and Worthan Center for the Performing Arts)
The first Goombay festival is held in downtown Asheville and has become YMI Cultural Center’s annual celebration of African and Caribbean culture in Western North Carolina.
In 1980, it was proposed that the city acquire and tear down139 lots of land that covered approximately 22.7 acres of downtown Asheville in order to build a new shopping mall. On April 19, 1980, artists lead “The Wrap” of downtown to protest to demonstrate just how much of Asheville was going to be demolished. Using pieces of cloth tied together, citizens roughly outlined the proposed area of construction of the mall. On election day 1981, the voters struck down the bonds with a margin of 2 to 1.
Asheville’s first public art project the Energy Loop is installed and dedicated during Bele Chere by Governor Jim Hunt in Pack Square off Spruce Street (the installation is now located across the street from the courthouse)
Regional arts council Executive Directors established the Western Arts Agencies of North Carolina to strengthen the arts community in Western North Carolina.
Warren Haynes Christmas Jam begins. Curated by Grammy Award-winning vocalist-songwriter, producer, and revered guitarist Warren Haynes, the Christmas Jam is one of the most celebrated and longest-running live concerts in the U.S.
Work begins on the Urban Trail, a walking tour of the city’s history with 30 public art stations
Blue Spiral 1 gallery founded by John Cram to showcase fine art and crafts by exceptional Southern artists and object makers in downtown Asheville
Diana Wortham Theatre is founded (now Wortham Theatre for the Performing Arts) to enrich, enlighten, educate and entertain through the performing arts.
Plack Place Education, Arts & Science Center opens and includes Asheville Art Museum, Diana Wortham Theatre (now Wortham Center for the Performing Arts), The Health Adventure, and the Colburn Earth Science Museum (now Asheville Museum of Science)
Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center is founded to preserve the history and explore the legacy of Black Mountain College.
The first studio stroll takes place in the River Arts District. It has since become the largest annual RAD event, where over 200 artists open for the second full weekend in November.
HandMade in America was founded to assist the small towns and communities of WNC in transitioning their economies from the mills that once dotted the region to an economy based on the arts, culture, history, and recreation assets that define the unique and authentic character of the region.
The first Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) took place in Black Mountain
The River Arts District becomes established. It is an area of former industrial buildings located near the French Broad River, along Riverside Drive east of Interstate 240. Numerous artists have moved into the area to produce and display their works.
The Asheville City Council establishes a Public Art Board to promote and maintain art displays in public buildings and public spaces in the City of Asheville.
Black Mountain Center for the Arts opened in downtown Black Mountain. It is located in the old City Hall building, which was built in 1927.
NC Stage Company is founded to bring off-broadway style professional equity theatre to Asheville
The last of the Urban Trail’s 30 stations is completed
The Orange Peel – Social Aid & Pleasure Club opens in downtown Asheville. It has since been voted one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 5 Rock Clubs in the country.
Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective is founded to increase diversity in WNC performing arts
Center for Craft moves to downtown Asheville. Since 1996, they have been advancing the understanding of craft by encouraging and supporting research, critical dialogue, and professional development in the United States.
Asheville hosts the last Bele Chere festival. Due to rising costs, the City of Asheville ends the city-organized festival after nearly 35 years.
Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center closes to make room for the Asheville Art Museum and Wortham Center for the Performing Arts expansions.
HandMade in America closes due to lack of funding. For 20 years, HIA pioneered innovative ways to empower the people and towns of Western North Carolina through programs that educate and facilitate the needs of creative entrepreneurs and communities.
City of Asheville enacts a new Percent for the Arts Policy, designating 1% of the funding from all qualifying capital improvement projects (CIP) to public art
RADTIP Public Art Plan announced. RADTIP stands for River Arts District Transportation Improvement Plan.
Coinciding with an exhibition at Biltmore of multi-media artist Dale Chihuly’s monumental glass sculptures, the community hosted a Summer of Glass series to showcase both the historical and contemporary context of glass and its talented artists in Western North Carolina.
Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center moves into their newly renovated space at 120 College Street.
The Arts Market Study is published. Center for Craft and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce worked in partnership with dozens of local arts and creative organizations, The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, City of Asheville, UNC Asheville, and Artspace, a national nonprofit leader to develop affordable space solutions for artists and creatives.
Asheville Art Museum, Wortham Center for the Performing Arts (formerly Diana Wortham Theatre), and Center for Craft reopen in downtown after major renovations
The City of Asheville completed the inaugural Celebrating African Americans Through Public Art (CAAPA) public art project. The finished piece by Art Ecologie is a community-informed project that honors the history of THE BLOCK.
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium renovation campaign is launched
LEAF Global Arts, Noir Collective, Rabbit Rabbit, Citizen Vinyl, and SoundSpace at Rabbit’s open in Asheville
Artists react to the death of George Floyd and the protests in downtown Asheville with a series of storefront murals and a Black Lives Matter street mural in Pack Square.