Culture watch

In a few weeks, after the buzz of Bele Chere has died down and the Smashing Pumpkins residency slowly fades into memory, it might be worth taking a long, hard look at the direction our local culture is headed in. In the last few years, rather by focused common will or simply mass delusion spilling over into the real world, Asheville’s homegrown culture has finally made an impact on the national media.

Want proof? Just type “Asheville” and any genre of arts into a Google search. “Asheville Music” generates 1,970,000 hits, while “Asheville Art” returns 2,260,000. We have arrived, I assure you.

But where are we headed, creatively speaking?

It’s too early to tell, but I’d argue that from a mainstream perspective this town’s arts, music, film, dance, theater and writing scenes have never had a higher profile. We appear to be on the verge of living up to our own hype.

For instance, before the end of 2007, we’re likely to have at least three completely local films—Moon Europa, Golden Blade III and Asheville: The Movie—released on the indie circuit. Simple Things, a film shot in and around Asheville, has been picking up awards across the country since its release in late 2006. The Asheville Film Festival is already looking better, thanks to a revitalized Web site (which, I should note in full disclosure, the Xpress is helping with and contributing to) and better planning by Parks & Rec. The 48 Hour Film Project just finished its third year with a record-breaking 41 teams, putting Asheville contest on par with much bigger cities like Philadelphia. In short, our reputation as a film-friendly city is slowly being cemented.

Although our local music scene appears to be more fractured than ever before, it has also never been more active and well represented by nationally touring acts that call the city home. Thrashers and screamers like Sanctity and Secret Lives of the Freemasons haven’t actively disowned the town—and still embrace its culture—even though they’ve received little in the way of local venue and media support (this includes Xpress, by the way). Meanwhile, groups like Mad Tea Party, Stephanie’s Id, Ménage and Barrel House Mamas—among many others—continue to export our native sounds to venues and festivals across the country. And our venues, forever stuck in the middle between supporting local music and trying to pay the lease, appear to be thriving. Local recording studios appear to heavily booked, which hints that much of the money generated by local music appears to be staying in the community. In what could be seen as a creative coup, even this year’s Bele Chere festival seemed overwhelmed with local acts, hinting that even the City has finally caught on to the importance of its own music scene. And, perhaps most importantly, there seems to be no shortage of listeners across the nation desperate to hear the sounds that Ashevillians create.

Our theater scene is increasingly more professional, active and vibrant. With locally oriented community projects like No Shame Theatre, as well as the willingness of practically every local theater company to take on locally created productions, it’s safe to say that local theater is as good as it has ever been.

Our crafts and visual-arts community appears as vibrant as any time in history. World-class artists have long called Asheville and WNC their home, but by opting to stay in the area and selling locally, their contribution to our increasingly tourism-based economy has become quite significant. Not only that, but the need for new studio locations and housing for artists has consistently helped revitalize the area’s real estate. (So, if you’re a potter who has just gotten priced out of your neighborhood, instead of blaming Floridians or real-estate developers, you might want to take some of that blame yourself.)

So, no snarky comments this week, and no cruelly biting sarcasm, either. Well done, Asheville. Keep up the good work.

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