Wide-open spaces

Lest you mistake 1999’s first City Center Arts Walk for a traditional “gallery crawl,” event spokesman Clayton Wefel offers this startling statement: “We wanted it to be something where people would feel comfortable bringing their kids” — apparently unfazed by the specter of tiny fingerprints smudging the works currently on view at Art International Asheville (35 Patton Ave.). You heard him right: This year’s spring Arts Walk, sponsored by the Arts Alliance, has a “family-friendly theme. Accordingly, no wine will be served in participating venues (though such refreshments are, of course, available at nearby bars and restaurants).

“We wanted to make [the Arts Walk] as inclusive as possible,” continues Wefel. Arts Walk co-chair Deborah Squier, whose soothing, gauzy landscapes appear at the new Mountains to the Sea Gallery (16 Patton Ave.) agrees, elaborating: “We wanted to keep the focus on the artwork, not on [a party atmosphere]. It’s a celebration of the diversity of arts in downtown, not some exclusive, epicurean thing.”

In keeping with this broader vision, the walk has expanded to include retail stores — like Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe (55 Haywood St.) — that display art, as well as traditional galleries and museums. “Art spaces” is the all-encompassing term for the walk’s featured attractions, and some distinctive finds lurk within its generous confines.

Buried treasure

Given the Arts Walk’s new alcohol-free status, the driving force behind one participating venue — eclectic furniture/gift boutique the L.O.F.T (Lost Objects Found Treasures) — seems rich with irony.

“Vann [Boyd] and I went out for drinks one night,” reveals co-owner Katie Skinner, “and, after several margaritas, we planned the store. We bought the building the next day.”

Located at 53 Broadway (with a sister branch in Saluda), the 3-year-old shop contains more wonders than your grandmother’s attic and cellar combined. Old furniture is the L.O.F.T.’s specialty, and while Boyd and Skinner regularly feature uniquely refinished rustic relics (including a primitive German armoire), they now also offer new, unusual upholstered pieces — or “puffy furniture,” as Skinner likes to call it.

But handmade-paper journals, jaunty twig-and-metal tables and picture frames formed from barn wreckage are still the standouts here: “There was nowhere in town where you could buy funky, affordable furniture and gifts,” she explains. L.O.F.T. is now expanding into its basement, and beyond: The store will soon launch a personal design service that boasts, “We can affordably redo your home and squeeze new life out of old looks.”

An eye for arresting detail is L.O.F.T.’s calling card. “We can either paint [a piece of furniture] funkier, or refinish it to its natural state,” Skinner promises confidently.

Through their eyes

When Atlanta-based photographer Renee Moog joined the Peace Corps as a community-development agent, she brought a camera with her — like most people traveling to foreign climes. But, for Moog, capturing her experience in a Senegalese village on film became more than an incidental pastime. “The media’s portrayal of Africa has focused only on drought, famine, extremes of violence,” she asserts. “It may be like that, in some areas, but [Americans] don’t realize that in a large part of the continent, it’s simply people living normal lives.”

Her exhibit, A Global Village — which will open at the YMI Cultural Center (39 South Market St.) on Friday, June 11, as part of the Arts Walk, features thoughtful, intimate portrayals of villagers that are “halfway between candid and posed shots,” Moog explains. The artist adds that her subjects’ idea of what a photo should be (i.e., a traditional portrait), coupled with her wish to capture them informally, made for some unique shots.

Accompanying the photos are stories that further illuminate the “mystery” behind the villagers’ lives. What Moog ultimately absorbed during her two-year stay was an inherent sense of community and shared values — a mindset which she sorely missed upon her return to the States.

“What I knew there was very different from my life before or since,” she observes. “Since I’ve been back, I’ve tried to recreate a sense of community that echoes the support I felt in the village.”

Moog says she hopes these photos “give people a chance to experience, in some small way, the warmth and positivity I felt there.”

The YMI exhibit runs through Aug 14, and the Arts Walk offers a great chance to sample the diverse offerings of Asheville’s thriving arts scene.

The first installment of this year’s City Center Arts Walk takes place on Friday, June 11, from 5-8 p.m. Participants may start in any venue they like; maps and brochures will be available in all participating art spaces:

Biltmore Gallery Downtown (144 Biltmore Ave.)

American Folk Art & Antiques (64 Biltmore Ave.)

Steebo Design (86 S. Lexington Ave.)

The L.O.F.T. (53 Broadway)

Zone one contemporary gallery (37 Biltmore Ave.)

Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave.)

Arts Alliance Front Gallery (11 Biltmore Ave.)

Mountains to the Sea (16 Patton Ave.)

Pack Place Gallery (2 South Pack Square).

Asheville Art Museum (2 South Pack Square)

YMI Cultural Center (39 South Market St.)

Appalachian Craft Center (10 North Spruce St.)

Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe (55 Haywood St.)

Soruba Samadhi Gallery (70 College St.)

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