LEAF Global Arts center opens on The Block

LEAFERS: “We want families that aren’t able to travel to places like West Africa or Mardi Gras to have a centralized location where they can have that transformative cultural experience,” says Marsha Almodovar, far right, LEAF Global Arts’ community engagement director. Also pictured, starting top left, Ehren Cruz, Schree Chavdarov, Erinn Hartley and Leigh Maher; bottom left, Jennifer Pickering, Jordan Robbins, Kristal Woods, Michelle Troszak, Megan Crow and Chelcie Spencer. Photo by Thomas Calder

With construction wrapping up, the LEAF Global Arts center will host its grand opening on Valentine’s Day, Friday, Feb. 14. “The dream was always this,” says Marsha Almodovar, the nonprofit’s community engagement director. Combining international art and music with local history, the multilevel space will offer community members and visitors alike the chance to interact with sights and sounds from around the world.

“In these polarizing times, I feel like the center highlights the ways music and art can heal,” says Almodovar. “It brings us back to our humanity … to see a piece of beauty, to be able to dance, to know that we’re all part of a much bigger world.”

Located inside the historic Del Cardo building, on the corner of Eagle and Market streets, the center’s opening also marks the start of a new chapter in the nonprofit’s 25-year history. Previously known as LEAF Community Arts, the 501(c)(3) is rebranding as LEAF Global Arts.

The name change, explains Almodovar, better captures the greater impact of the organization, which spans the globe with programs in 10 different countries. “We’ll still be doing community work,” Almodovar says, “but we wanted to also highlight our international partnerships.”

The venue’s global aesthetic is apparent throughout the new space. Mexican tiles greet visitors at the entrance. Meanwhile, the building’s exposed cement columns are wrapped in tribal designs created by the Bribri, an indigenous people of Costa Rica. In addition, interactive maps and listening stations are situated on the building’s main floor, along with a small performance stage and the nonprofit’s Easel Rider Art Bar.

Also prominently featured on the ground level is an exhibit on the building’s history. Adjacent to the YMI Cultural Center, the Del Cardo stands in the heart of Asheville’s former African American business district known as The Block. Over the years, notes Almodovar, various enterprises, including professional offices, shops and even a nightclub, operated out of the building. Through a collection of displayed photographs and memorabilia (including a restored Pepsi sign used during its former nightclub days), the center pays homage to the Del Cardo’s past. Monthly storytelling sessions, organized by longtime Asheville resident and local historian Roy Harris, will be held in the space, as well.

Additional activities will take place in the building’s two mezzanines. The Madiba Mezzanine will feature Adama Dembele’s custom tailor shop. On the second mezzanine, The Sougou Artists Market will host a variety of local and international vendors, including LEAF artists.

Meanwhile, in the building’s basement, a virtual reality mini-theater, cultural immersion room, recording studio, instrument petting zoo (think drums instead of sheep) and a performance stage round out the LEAF Global Arts center experience. The cultural immersion room will showcase loaned exhibits on display for six-month intervals; the inaugural collection includes beaded and feathered masks by artist Chief Shaka Zulu of New Orleans.

“We want families that aren’t able to travel to places like West Africa or Mardi Gras to have a centralized location where they can have that transformative cultural experience,” says Almodovar.

The downstairs portion of the building will also host special events, including live concerts and classes. Beginning in March, workshops on world percussion, DJing, West African drumming and hip-hop dancing will all be held in the new location. Each session runs eight weeks.

Shorter courses will also be offered in February and March, including a writing workshop, a puppetry class, a painting course and the #Human project led by local artist Tarah Singh (see “Tarah Singh Talks About Personal Paintings and Global Design Initiatives,” Jan. 9, Xpress).

Before its grand opening, a free tour of the center will be held Friday, Feb. 14, 3-5 p.m., during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Subsequent tours will be available during regular business hours, Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and Monday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. General admission is $12 or $10 for LEAF members. Children 5 and younger enter free.

Following the ribbon-cutting, the official grand opening will run 6-9 p.m. Tickets are $75, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit. The event will offer live music by River Guerguerian of Free Planet Radio and members of Toubab Krewe.

The revelry will then continue with an afterparty at The Grey Eagle, where the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is slated to perform. (Grand-opening attendees will receive a discount code to purchase tickets to that show.)

“The idea was always to have a global art center,” says Almodovar. “We’ve been dreaming about this for a while. The fact that it’s inside this historic building just feels right. … It’s about connecting cultures and creating community through music and art. That is the glue that holds us all together.”

WHAT: LEAF Global Arts center grand opening
WHERE: 9 Eagle St., theleaf.org/globalartscenter
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 14. $75

Corrections 2/17: Marsha Almodovar’s name was misspelled in an earlier version; the center’s hours have been updated. 

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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