Craft group coming to downtown Asheville

For 18 years, the University of North Carolina’s Center for Craft, Creativity and Design has garnered the respect of the national and international crafts community with exhibitions, conferences and publications, while brokering millions of dollars in grants to prominent and aspiring craft artists.

And they’ve been doing so almost entirely unnoticed from 50 rural acres near Hendersonville. “Locally, unless you’re in the [crafts] community, we don’t exist,” said CCCD board president Michael Sherrill, an artist and supplier of tools for ceramists in Bat Cave.

But if the CCCD is relatively unknown to area residents, that’s likely to change when the organization moves to the high-profile building on downtown Asheville’s Broadway Street. On Wednesday, Aug. 7, the organization finalized the purchase of 67 Broadway, a building currently occupied by Lark Books. The new location will give the center visibility and add another craft-centered entity to Asheville.

“People come to Asheville to see craft,” said Stephanie Moore, CCCD’s executive director. “This gives us a permanent presence and allows us to dream about what the city of Asheville needs and what the center needs.”

The Fine Print
CCCD finalized the $2.4 million purchase of 67 Broadway Street, on August 7 and plans to move in by late September. The Windgate Charitable Foundation, an Arkansas-based charity and long-time CCCD financial backer, donated $2.2 million. The remaining $200,000 is a tax credit for the former building owner.

The property was purchased from Rob Pulleyn, a ceramic artist, developer and former CCCD board member, who founded Lark Books in 1979 with his wife (and business partner) and later sold it to Sterling Books. Now owned by Barnes and Noble, the company publishes books about crafts. It will continue to lease office space in the building. The center’s move downtown “helps to solidify Asheville and the greater WNC area as a crafts mecca,” Pulleyn said.

The center’s relocation was years in the making, according to Moore. But those plans were expedited after UNCA’s administration cut CCCD out of the university’s budget. The university announced the move on July 11, to take effect on September 30, and cited impending budget cuts, financial pressure and CCCD’s assistance of other institutions besides UNCA. The news also meant CCCD had to vacate the Kellogg Center, space the university owns.

“As we face further budget cuts in 2013 and 2014, we can no longer protect CCCD at the expense of core programs and services for our undergrad students,” said Ed Katz, UNCA’s associate provost and dean of university programs. “The CCCD board and the University decided together to discontinue the Center’s affiliation.” Doing so, Katz says, will allow CCCD to “achieve its goal of expanding its collaborations with other partnering institutions.”

Despite the abrupt nature of the severance, both CCCD and UNCA said they are still open to future partnerships.

Developing, Evolving
How did the center come to be in the first place? In 1994, craft-support organization HandMade in America commissioned a study demonstrating the economic potential of Western North Carolina’s craft industry. The report persuaded the UNC Board of Governors to create a research institute to bolster the study and awareness of studio craft. The center was to serve all 16 UNC campuses. There was an emphasis, though, on Appalachian State, Western Carolina and UNCA because of the region’s deep heritage in craft education, and institutions that include the Southern Highland Craft Guild, John C. Campbell Folk School and the Penland School of Crafts. 

CCCD set up shop at UNCA’s Kellogg Center, a conference center in the woods five miles west of Hendersonville that was once the summer residence of the wife of the founder of the Square D Company. While the heavily wooded location was serene and offered hiking trails and a sculpture garden, it was relatively far away and not conducive to participation. Students from ASU, WCU and UNCA were reluctant to make the hour-long trek. Arts tourists and patrons did not seek it out. That is, if they’d heard of it. 

Even as CCCD’s national reputation in crafts research grew — it published “Makers,” the first comprehensive survey of American studio craft, and helped launch the Journal of Modern Craft — it remained largely unknown to the WNC public.

The move will help change that. Downtown Asheville’s atmosphere, restaurants, museums and nightlife will help lure CCCD visitors, Moore said: “There’s simply just more to do.”

Marilyn Zapf, CCCD’s assistant director, said the new location will be more conducive to downtown artists’ residencies, curatorial interns and experimental exhibitions. The first exhibition, “Taking Shape,” is already booked for November, she noted. It features works by recipients of the first five years of Windgate Fellowships, annual awards of $15,000 given to graduating college seniors in the field of craft. Since 2006, Windgate and CCCD have partnered to award the grants. This show, Zapf said, “maps the path of the program.”

But the space will be more than a gallery. “We don’t want to be constrained to just holding exhibitions,” Zapf said. “It’s a space to be more experimental with engaging public discourse.”

The organization is something of a moderator in the craft world. It brokers relationships between artists and funders, private and public. It unites organizations and educational institutions and bring together the brightest minds in the field during their annual “Think Tanks.” And it wrote the first textbook on American craft.

“Our board is about having a global look at the craft field,” Sherrill said. Now, with a highly visible and equally accessible facade, it plans to localize those approaches.

The move will help bolster an invigorated plan of action for the CCCD, one that they hope will take Asheville to the next level. “We’re asking: What does this space offer that Asheville doesn’t have?” Moore said. “What does Asheville need to raise it to a national level?”

Photo: Inside the Lark Books building, looking over the CCCD’s working drawings. Photo by Max Cooper.


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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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