A new prescription: The new arts space, Apothecary, opens with bold ambitions

Wide-eyed wonder: Left to right, Alex Cummings, Zach Smith, Frank Meadows, Nick Scavo, Aaron Dowdy, Christian Church and David Grubba.

A July 2010 article by Edward L. Glaeser and William R. Kerr in the Harvard Business Review challenged the conventional wisdom for economic recovery. “With job growth continuing to lag even as the economy picks up, local communities will be tempted to resume ‘smokestack chasing’ — using tax breaks to attract big employers; that’s a misguided approach,” they wrote. Instead, Glaeser and Kerr showed that regional economies were much better off with a high concentration of small, entrepreneurial businesses than with a handful of large corporations.

The same might be true of a local arts community.

“We have huge venues like The Orange Peel, or even the Grey Eagle, that are hard to get unless you’re a larger act, and then we have the Emerald Lounge and Craggie Brewing Company, and haphazard house shows, but there’s not like one place where things are happening consistently, where there’s a community that’s involved, and everyone’s plugged into it,” UNC-Asheville junior Nick Scavo says. “That’s what we’re trying to provide.”

Scavo is one of six founders of Apothecary, a new Asheville arts space. The idea, he says, came from a conference he attended as part of his job at UNCA’s Writing Center. Speakers were discussing the importance of available space for people to share ideas, to spawn creativity. “It was just a bunch of weird corporate lingo going on, but, regardless, I started thinking about how much our university needed that,” Scavo says.

Then, he thought bigger: All of Asheville could benefit from a space like this, and might even offer less red tape than a university-sanctioned option.

Scavo and his housemates, Frank Meadows, Alex Cummings, Aaron Dowdy, Dave Grubba and Zach Smith, put the idea in motion by soliciting donations from professors and other benefactors.

The group started looking for a space in the River Arts District, but ultimately answered an ad for space at the YMI Cultural Center on South Market Street. After a lengthy application process — “They’ve been very, very diligent about trying to get the right kind of thing,” Scavo says — Apothecary won the lease, beating out three or four other groups, with its vision of a creative nexus for Asheville’s grass-roots creative talent, and the occasional touring band.

Apothecary opened officially with a concert on Aug. 31 featuring Greensboro art-pop outfit Casual Curious, Asheville’s Alligator Indian and Knoxville’s Fine Peduncle. On Labor Day the space hosted the local ambient act Villages and the Ahleuchatistas side-project Lulo. September will also feature gigs from pop-experimentalists Jane Jane Pollock and lo-fi songwriter Molly Nilsson, among others.

“It’s all music stuff right now, but the idea of the space is if anyone has any creative ideas, we just want to have four walls where those things can be actualized,” Scavo says. The group is already working on an art opening for the early October art walk, and fielding contacts with literary groups.

“We want to pursue a certain level of quality in things that are happening, but also want to be as inclusive and as open as possible,” Scavo says. The goal is to make the space accessible to anybody looking to host an event by offering a lower rental fee — between $50 and $100, he says — and less hassle than the traditional bar or coffee shop. “We wanted to lower that threshold, so more people have more opportunities to do great creative events and have it be seen by people downtown and by a receptive community.”

Bryan C. Reed is the online editor at Shuffle Magazine, and a regular contributor to MAGNET and Paste.

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