There’s plenty of Florida in Asheville — even if a large measure of that presence is seasonal, senior or citrus. Local big-scale artist Dustin Spagnola, himself a Florida native, wants to return the favor, or the presence at least, and bring Asheville art to Miami. Actually, he wants to put Asheville art somewhere on Miami, with the help of a few collaborators. And you.

Does this mean you get to help paint? No. But you can help fund a trip to Miami for four Asheville artists — Spagnola, Asheville Mural Project director Ian Wilkinson and one-word-name street artists Geyser and Ishmael — and they’ll paint on your behalf. Spagnola hopes to raise $750 “for travel and accommodations” through the increasingly popular fundraising site,, which hosts his “Asheville-to-Miami Mural Project” campaign. Additional donations are accepted on kickstarter until Nov. 27.

Why should you help? “That’s a good question,” Spagnola said, “‘why?’ It’s going to benefit the artists involved. And realistically, the project will have kickbacks for Asheville in general — continuing to move Asheville into an international art scene, it has to have direct benefit for not just the community but for businesses too,” he said.

Margaret Goodson donated. “Dustin’s a great artist and my bartender on Fridays [at the Rankin Vault]… and the project is about community. He’s pulling together a good group of people,” she told Xpress.

If an entourage of guys going to Miami Beach in December to paint without you doesn’t entice your philanthropic side, Spagnola offered a few more incentives in a pitch video (which he filmed, edited and starred in, by the way): “We’re friends — you know me and you want to help out; You like art; You think public art is important; You see a strong benefit in public art and understand it’s good for the community; You can be a part of something good — inspire and influence other people.”

There are also material rewards for every pledge level, which Spagnola enumerates in his best QVC voice (“You can get some really cool free stuff! For $1, video updates …  for $25, an Asheville Mural project T-shirt … for $100 a hand-painted image in paper … for $1,000: a mural.” (But doesn’t everybody “get a mural” when it’s painted in public? And why does Miami’s mural only cost $750?)

With or without your help (although he could really use it), he says, Spagnola will travel to Miami Beach, Fla. in late November for the annual Art Basel exhibition, which takes place Dec. 1-5. Art Basel describes itself as “the most important art show in the United States — a cultural and social highlight for the Americas.” Although it may not be humble, the festival probably is one of the most significant annual arts events in the country. Now in its 41st year, Art Basel exhibits “an exclusive selection of more than 250 leading art galleries … with works by over 2,000 artists.”

Spagnola wants to go to Miami “to paint a giant image.” Specifically, he wants to paint a mural, and he has some criteria: “Number one, [it will depict] someone who is a person — someone who is revolutionary or progressive in their ideals, beliefs or actions.” If that sounds vague, Spagnola must have thought so too, saying “What I really want, ideally, is [to paint] someone who’s directly connected to Miami, since we’re going there. I thought about doing images of Native American tribes from there.”

Spagnola’s purview is all over this project, specifically the “someone who is revolutionary or progressive” part. Take the mural on the rear patio wall at DeSoto Lounge on Haywood Road: a massive, black, white and pink portrait of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Or the enormous expressway-exit facing windows at the artist’s studio a few doors down, where a rotating display has recently included Crazy Horse, Gil Scot-Heron, Grand Master Flash and Barack Obama.

Notice a pattern? All these figures represent racial minorities, a predilection the white Spagnola explains as an interest in “filling in the gaps in the stories of history.” They are also all men.

Local painter and Xpress contributor Ursula Gullow observed this last trait when considering a donation to the project, and confronted Spagnola on his gender myopia, which incited a sort of forum on Spagnola’s Facebook page about the prospective content of the mural.

“Ursula Gullow suggested some women [for the mural]— one that I really liked was Marleine Bastien,” Spagnola told Xpress. Bastien is a Haitian-American community activist and recent Democratic Congressional candidate for Miami’s predominately Black 17th district, which includes North Miami and North Miami Beach.

“It would be really cool to do a whole body of work show based on what people want,” Spagnola told Xpress. “Usually I’m trying to guess what I think is important to me, to other individuals, to everyone.”

Suggestions are appreciated, but not necessarily applied. “They’re suggestions; it’s not like I have to do some thing because somebody suggested it.”

Gullow’s one wish for the project? “I just hope they include some f—king women,” she told Xpress.

In the end, Spagnola may capitulate; however much he seems to personally benefit from the project, his expressed goals are communal. “I don’t want to piss people off; I want to inspire people and get people to feel proud and happy and creative — and to question things.” It would be helpful if one such question was, “What can I do to help?”

— Jaye Bartell can be reached at


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16 thoughts on “Basel-bound

  1. Curious

    “Buy a raffle ticket: Available at various beverage outlets including The Rankin Vault, The Admiral, DeSoto Lounge, Westville Pub and Izzy’s West. Tickets are $10 each.”

    Are games of chance legal in North Carolina?

  2. Asheville Observer

    So, let me get this straight, members of the community are footing the gas bill and party tab for these ‘street’ artists, to paint a mural in Miami and that benefits the Asheville art scene? I didnt read anywhere that they were actually exhibiting in a show at all. Im not seeing the communal angle here.
    Also, am i the only person noticing his paintings are either glued xerox transfers or projected photographs? Is that whats hot in the streets?
    Party on, marky mark and the funky bunch!

  3. sparkle

    I also have noticed his paintings or lack there of. He should title his next show “A Trace Of Time” because his tracing takes little time. He has indeed done one “painting” of a women that I have seen, but is Betty Page really a revolutionary icon? I was impressed with the article itself because the writer didn’t seem to be duped either. Did anyone catch the artwork at Rosetta’s last month? Those guys have talent!

  4. Ian Wilkinson

    I am Ian Wilkinson, Program Manager for the Asheville Mural Project. We are a non-profit program of Arts2People. The Mural Project does a number of things for Asheville: We host summer groups of YWCA teens at risk for gang violence, We involve youths caught doing graffiti in workshops, We offer free murals, workshops, and lectures to public and private schools. We are currently organizing a free mural workshop for another local non-profit called Bountiful Cities, Check out the amazing work they are doing. Also don’t forget about our gift to the community- the Lexington gateway mural!! I feel as though some of the important mission of the Miami trip has fallen off. The intent was to go and study how a city embraces graffiti writers, and bring that essence home to Asheville. If we can make an event that celebrates graffiti here then we can turn the switch from: “How fast can I tag this” or “how risky was that tag!” To: how great is it? what can you leave behind if you have the time to make it beautiful. I will not be making the trip this year, but I encourage anyone that goes there or anywhere to come back here to our great city with the intent of making things better. We live in a very up and coming art scene I’ve been around in lots of the big timer art arenas and I mean to tell you Asheville is going to pop! We are blessed with so much talent and vision. We just all need to be as positive and encouraging to everyone in our community as we can be. We are a funky bunch no doubt, but the goal is to give back greatness to Asheville.

  5. Politics Watcher

    Curious, the raffle is legal if it meets this test:

    (a) It is lawful for any nonprofit organization or association, recognized by the Department of Revenue as tax-exempt pursuant to G.S. 105-130.11(a), to conduct raffles in accordance with this section. Any person who conducts a raffle in violation of any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

    So the question is, What nonprofit organization is sponsoring the raffle? Mr. Wilkinson can give the details and if the raffle meets the requirements.

  6. D.B.

    What a crock! Pay your own travel expenses like everyone else who wants a vacation, kid. Kickstarter was NOT designed to fund wishy-washy projects like this.

    In his own words, “It’s going to benefit the artists involved.” That’s not a project worth funding in my opinion and it ought to be removed from Kickstarter.

    I’m with Sparkle (and the author of the article for that matter). I won’t be duped into donating my hard earned cash for their vacation. Heck, Spagnola said he’s going to go either way. He must not need the cash all that much to begin with.

  7. Ian Wilkinson

    Dearest political watcher,
    We absolutely stay above board with all of our fund raising events.This will be the second and last legal raffle of the year. And we are of course well under the $125,000 limit. I would answer more questions for you, but I’m not required to. look us up! -Ian

  8. JM

    What a kind of sense of entitlement does this guy have!! This sounds absolutely suspect. The Asheville Mural Project is going to take a beating from the likes of this. Because I see nothing that has to do with the Asheville Mural Project in this trip. It sounds as though the artist wants his trip paid for. Sorry buddy, that doesn’t fly. He is probably the only person asking for his trip money from the community. That is what your parents are for dude. I would imagine every other artist out there makes their trip happen in order to get to Basel by not asking people for money. Besides, the work that I have seen is paper cut outs and projection paint by numbers style, like in the Desoto. Not to much imagination.

    To Ian Wilkinson – I used to live in Miami and the murals that go up during Basel are organized by crews and gallery people down there. The city does not embrace the graffiti mural ideas nor are they funded in any way by the city or it’s organizations. Businesses may pay for an artist to paint their building though. It is mostly allowed (accepted) in areas as a beautification project.

    By the way, I plan on going to Belize to tag a few buildings(I mean paint a mural), who wants to donate to get me there?!?

  9. SatelliteBill

    Some tough criticism, No matter what one feels about the idea of the trip or Dustin’s work, the one question I wish to ask is..
    What are any of you doing for your city, town or community? In what ways are you supporting it, being a part of it and are you trying to help it move forward?

    Let’s try and look at the positive aspects and ideas that Dustin is trying to point out.

  10. M

    first of all, if you don’t support this project, don’t help fund it. it’s not like anyone is using tax money–it’s donation based.
    second, asheville is great in a lot of ways but in terms of supporting street art and public art, there is a) a lot of hesitation, lest the city encourage what they consider vandalism or b) not the kind of money available to fund large projects.
    whatever hangups you may have with dustin spagnola/his art/his approach, this project at least gives asheville some kind of forum on the international art scene–particularly for young artists.
    it’s ridiculous to say this won’t benefit the community just because the mural itself isn’t here. any attention this project gets is directly associated with asheville, which gives us more of a presence and in turn helps every artist here trying to garner business/visibility/credibility. in addition, everything the artists learn when they are working on these murals in miami will come straight back to asheville. the arts community is a fairly small, well-connected group, so you can bet there will be a lot of information sharing going on. i would encourage any means of making the asheville art scene richer, more dynamic, and less insular. we live in a pretty small town, but what makes it so interesting is our receptivity to outside ideas and influences.
    true, it would be nice to see different aesthetic points of view in the mural, and maybe something that came closer to representing a cross-section of the asheville art community. but if nothing else, it’s at least something that sets the stage for future public projects in asheville, and it seems counter-productive to discourage any kind of headway in this direction.

  11. Ian Wilkinson

    Thanks to everyone with a positive outlook. JM, I know the city doesn’t fund the murals in Miami, do you think they fund the mural here. The key is to determine how to bring that essence and make something like it happen here. I have personally spoken with lots of local business owners and building owners with like minds. People that are sick of breaking out the rollers and gray primer. To all the folks that can’t bottle the hate to see the good, you just sit back and let the driven folks beautify your city. Then you can come in at the end and claim you were always on board, cause that’s what you do.

  12. Curious

    Could the reporter – or a reader – bring us up to date on how these artists’ fundraising project to get them to Miami is going?

  13. “Could the reporter – or a reader – bring us up to date on how these artists’ fundraising project to get them to Miami is going?”

    Re: Curious

    According to Spagnola, “Everything went really well [with the Kickstarter and in-studio] fundraisers; we couldn’t have hoped for a better response.”

    With 69 hours to go, the Asheville to Miami Mural Project Kickstarter fund stands at $1,146 — $396 more than the $750 goal (

    No numbers are available from the in-studio event on Nov. 21, but Spagnola said that it was well-attended.

    “We’re leaving Friday night [for Miami],” Spagnola told Xpress. “It looks like this whole thing will be crazy and great.”

  14. asheville77

    I have worked with the Asheville Mural Project in the past and it is a great organization run by motivated, good-hearted artist. Personally i don’t care for kinko size print outs pasted on paper, or for Dustin’s personality, but it is important to not let his actions harm the local view of the Mural Project. Ian and Molly are very talented artists that have worked many hours unpaid beautifying our city. As a local resident it makes me proud to see our murals around town, for this city is one of the most progressive on the east coast. Lets embrace and support the Asheville Mural Project and help them put this town on the map for the global art community. Personally, i just wish Mr. Spag didn’t taint the name of a credible and just organization.
    Some people not only dont even recognize the harm they do but are attracted to art not for the expression but for the scene. I for one know that the true members of the Asheville Mural Project are nothing like that and i will continue to support them in any way i can.

  15. toe lover

    graffiti is being used like a dirty whore by ” the progressive art community” leave the word graffiti out of it and quit selling out unique subcultures that go waaaaaaaaay deeper than banksy,shepard fairy and that graff movie u saw on demand or rented at the video store. Let the actual graff writers/artists progress their subculture on their own as they are. tons of opportunists jumping on a bandwagon that don’t know how it even works
    It’s like when some fool watches the news and all of a sudden acts like an expert on politics and worldly issues and talks at you all jacked up on some java.

    I support art of all kinds and mural projects just quit fakin the funk nahm sayin, do your own damn thing and be original about it, thats what counts

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