Officially alternative

Phil Mechanics Building

Imagine avant-garde exhibits lasting longer than two days: By sheltering educational programs as well as gallery space, the newly renovated Phil Mechanics Building gets to showcase out-there art and enjoy nonprofit status.

The newest addition to the river-district arts scene is by far its most ambitious. The Phil Mechanics Building has the potential to fill Asheville’s most pressing long-term art void — the lack of an official alternative space, if you’ll permit the seeming oxymoron.

Owners Jolene and Mitch Mechanics, who’ve fully funded the operation so far, have established a board of directors and applied for nonprofit status from the state. Their space now holds Asheville’s Blue Ridge Bio Fuels, Asheville Bicycle ReCyclery, studios for 12 artists, and three gallery spaces, including Pump for local art and Flood, for exhibits of works from national and international artists.

In Flood, a loft is being created above the 21-foot walls; one corner holds a semicircular platform for small music groups. There’s a large area set aside for refreshments. But the most intriguing part of the operation is the artists-in-residence program for which four large studios are being constructed, and the educational programming spearheaded by Sean Pace, which he’s aiming first at Eliada Home.

Pace is that rare kind of idealist who actually works to bring his dreams to fruition. “We want to go out,” he says, “to pull people in for community events. Young people need a chance to see contemporary art. They need to understand the higher value of creative thought.” In the meantime, he’s been overseeing hundreds of hours of volunteer labor — and hauling away 100,000 pounds of scrap and waste materials from the building’s past life as a construction warehouse.

Projecting the future of local art

Phil Mechanics Building

For its opening June 10, Flood will feature paintings, an installation and a performance by the space’s first artist in residence, Iranian born Habib Kheradyar (aka H.K. Zamani). Right out of graduate school, Kheradyar — who came to the U.S. when he was 13 — was exhibiting his paintings at one of L.A.’s most prestigious galleries. But he soon became interested in works he considered more challenging. Now he does installation, performance and pieces with fabric, paint, armatures and projections. His work for Flood connects to the area in its nod to Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes.

Up till now, the Phil Mechanics Building’s claim to fame was a brief appearance in the 1958 movie Thunder Road. Its new life could be more illustrious.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer whose work can be seen next at Blue Mountain Gallery in NYC.]

Flood (109 Roberts St.) opens with a 7-10 p.m. reception Saturday, June 10, featuring artist H.K. Zamani performing his Star Spangled Banner at 8 p.m. Zamani’s installation will run through Wednesday, July 12. 255-0066.

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