Around Town: Artists bring ‘Asheville vibe’ to Candace Pickens Memorial Park playground

NEW LIFE: The Jones Park playground, closed by Asheville City Schools in 2021, will be rebuilt as Candace Pickens Memorial Park. Photo courtesy of David Rodgers

Candace Pickens loved yellow, so the color will be incorporated into the design of the North Asheville playground being rebuilt in her honor. She had a dove tattoo, so images of doves will be carved and painted into the playground equipment as well.

And an image of the late Pickens and her son, Zachaeus, painted by her aunt based on a photo chosen by her mother, will be installed at the new Candace Pickens Memorial Park, formerly known as Jones Park.

“I wanted to make sure she is represented in the best possible way,” says the aunt, Jenny Pickens, a painter who serves as the arts and special features coordinator for the park. Candace Pickens, 22, was murdered at Jones Park in 2016. Zachaeus, then 3, survived the shooting but lost his left eye.

The original Jones Park playground was condemned and demolished by Asheville City Schools in September 2021 after more than 20 years of use. The community park sits on school district-owned land and shares a parcel with Ira B. Jones Elementary School.

Shortly after its closing, North Asheville resident David Rodgers spearheaded a fundraising drive to rebuild the playground. His efforts paid off when, in September 2022, the school district struck a deal with the city of Asheville and Buncombe County to rebuild the playground using donations. The Board of Education also voted to rename the park after Pickens.

Rodgers says incorporating art into the new playground has been a priority.

“Other artists have volunteered to collaborate with [Jenny Pickens] to bring an Asheville vibe into the playground honoring the life of Candace,” he says.

Pickens adds, “Artists spread love through creativity. Collaboration and great community are what’s happening.”

Organizers are signing up volunteers now to rebuild the playground from Wednesday, Oct. 4-Sunday, Oct. 8. For more information, go to

All that jazz

Asheville documentary filmmakers John Alexander and JC Guest get a lot of unsolicited ideas about stories they should pursue. But when they heard a pitch from Florida producer Lea Umberger, they knew it was something special.

“She said she knew what our next project was going to be and that it was all about [legendary jazz musician] Louis Armstrong’s secret daughter, who lived right there in nearby Sarasota,” Alexander says. “It was a story that seemed almost too good for television to be true.”

After reading Sharon Preston-Folta’s memoir, Little Satchmo, Alexander and Guest decided to collaborate with her on a documentary of the same name.

The film, which aired on PBS stations as part of the “Reel South” documentary series, this month won Best Historical Documentary at the Southeast Emmy Awards. Alexander directed Little Satchmo while Guest and Umberger served as producers.

The book details how Preston-Folta, the product of a two-decade love affair between Armstrong and Harlem dancer Lucille “Sweets” Preston, had no choice but to conceal her identity for decades before making it public. “It instantly struck a chord of genuine heartfelt emotion, a direct from-the-heart account which elicits not only interest but empathy from anyone with a heart,” Alexander says. “We figured bringing this to a documentary film format could have the power to make even more people feel these same emotions, even more intensely.”

“The project is very much a homegrown Asheville one,” Alexander adds. “The film was edited entirely in our home studios in Asheville. There were numerous pickup shots meant to take place in New York that we filmed locally around Asheville. All the directing of Preston-Folta’s voice-over narration, which is the driving force of the film, happened remotely from Asheville.”

For more information, or to watch the documentary, visit

Animal magnetism

 Inqwiry, a solo exhibition of works by Bakersville wire sculptor Josh Coté, will run Saturday, June 24-Sunday, Aug. 13 at Grovewood Gallery. An opening reception will be held Saturday, June 24, 2-5 p.m.

WIRE TO WIRE: The Grovewood Gallery will host an exhibit of large-scale, outdoor, wire animal sculptures by Josh Coté. Photo courtesy of the Grovewood Gallery

The show will feature several large-scale, outdoor, wire animal sculptures, including an 8-foot-long rhinoceros filled with blue glass bottles, a 6-foot-tall penguin, a large wolf and a goat filled with recycled cans.

“The selected works for this exhibition will showcase the culmination of everything I have learned as a wire sculptor,” Coté says in a press release. “So, the title of the show, Inqwiry, seemed a perfect fit as it describes my curiosity and love of wire. I have followed it like a metal thread to wherever it leads, much like an inquiry with a questioning mind.”

Grovewood Gallery, 111 Grovewood Road, Suite 2, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For more information, go to

Coming out

Local Color Comedy will present AVL Coming Out Monologues at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 24, at Cascade Lounge.  The event will feature comedy and storytelling from local comedians and will raise money for Local Color Comedy’s fall show.

Cascade Lounge is at 219 Amboy Road. For more information or to buy $10 tickets, go to

Into the woods

The Diana Wortham Theatre will present The American Woodsman, a musical by Asheville playwright Lorrie Pande, from Friday, June 23-Sunday, July 2.

The play, produced and directed by Pande and choreographed by Gary Flannery, tells the love story between John James Audubon, America’s first naturalist, and Lucy Bakewell Audubon

The Diana Wortham Theatre is at 18 Biltmore Ave. For more information or to buy tickets, go to

Park Rhythms concert series unveils lineup

Black Mountain’s free annual Park Rhythms concert series kicks off Thursday, June 29, with headliner Charlie Martin of the Austin, Texas, indie duo Hovvdy performing with country/indie rock act Fishplate. All concerts take place from 7-9 p.m. at Veterans Park.

Here’s the rest of the schedule:

July 6: Hubby Jenkins (old-time American music)

July 13: Jessica Lea Mayfield (singer-songwriter)

July 20: Lyric (R&B, soul)

July 27: Jake Xerxes Fussell (folk, blues)

Aug. 3: Twain (hip hop) with opener Natalie Jane Hill

Aug. 10: Thomas Dollbaum (rock)

Aug. 17: Ashley Heath (roots, soul)

Veterans Park is at 10 Veterans Park Drive, Black Mountain. For more information, go to

With additional reporting by Andy Hall


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Around Town: Artists bring ‘Asheville vibe’ to Candace Pickens Memorial Park playground

  1. David Rodgers

    Help us build the playground: – please share this website with others and sign up, We need your help. Build dates are October 4 – 8.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.