The new Center for Art & Inspiration — slated to open in downtown Hendersonville on Saturday, Feb. 23 — might seem like an ambitious vision. And it is: Along with theatrical productions, the event space offers murder mystery dinners, programming for children, a Malaprop’s bookstore pop-up, the Artful Cup Coffee Bar and more. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do: Create a place for people to get together and experience entertainment,” says founder Jeanie Linders. “I wanted a place that would create a sense of community.”
Linders previously lived and worked in Tucson, Ariz., and Orlando, Fla. She toured extensively with her show, Menopause: The Musical, and started visiting friends in Asheville 10 years ago. “I was always looking to live in a small arts community,” she says. But, having chosen to live in Hendersonville, she adds, “I wanted to be able to experience first-class entertainment without having to go into Asheville.”
Linders was already at work developing her vision in a different Hendersonville location but learned she wouldn’t be able to get the necessary permits. Around the same time, Flatrock Playhouse’s former Playhouse Downtown space on South Main Street became available, and Linder’s staff encouraged her to look at it. “It’s one of those things where the universe watches out for you,” she says. “I called the owner [of the South Main Street property] and said we’d start in January.”
She adds, “The thing about this space is there’s no limit to what we can do.”
The center’s grand opening features Subway Therapy movement creator and author Matthew “Levee” Chavez. “Subway Therapy is an immersive and interactive work aiming to help people smile, laugh and feel less stress,” Chavez explains in a press release. “It’s about peaceful expression and being part of a vibrant and diverse community.”
Following the 2016 presidential election, Chavez invited commuters in New York City’s Union Square subway station to jot their thoughts on sticky notes, creating an organic installation on the subway walls. Visitors to The Center for Art & Inspiration’s opening can add their ideas to a similar project.
More community-based art is in the works. “When Flatrock was here, the space wasn’t open all the time,” Linders says. The Center for Art & Inspiration will hold regular daytime hours because “what we’re creating is a destination on the south end. So even if we don’t have a show going on at the time, there will be a lot more going on.” Three art classes are already on the schedule, as is 2nd Sundays — a Chautauqua-type event — and the Hendo Story Club, similar to popular storytelling competition The Moth. And there will be books.
Melanie McNair, the center’s executive director, is serving as the liaison between Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville and the bookstore pop-up at The Center for Art & Inspiration. She brings her expertise from her former role as director of marketing and events and assistant manager of Malaprop’s. She relocated to Hendersonville last summer to focus on the new center.
Hendersonville is “a market that is really happy a bookstore is coming back,” she says. Since Fountainhead Books, formerly on Main Street, closed a few years ago, independent bookstore options have been limited.
The pop-up at the center will take up a corner of the lobby with seven bays of books and additional displays. Customers will be able to order whatever titles they want — “We’ll be doing an inventory exchange with the main store as well,” McNair notes. As far as what will be on the shelves, “Because we’re in The Center for Art & Inspiration, we’ll curate the collection so it focuses on creativity and art. We’ll also have a good selection of fiction, natural history and a regional section.”
While some genres, such as graphic novels, might be limited, “We’ll have at least something for every reader,” says McNair, though, “we are going to leave off the political science books.”
While Linders makes clear that The Center for Art & Inspiration is not affiliated with Flatrock Playhouse, nor is it similar in scope, it does continue an initiative of theater in downtown Hendersonville. “It’s great to be able to bring in people who’ve toured around the world,” Linders says. Her work with Menopause: The Musical, as well as a background in entertainment marketing and management and the production of multistage festivals, has resulted in a list of contacts from which to draw. Upcoming offerings include some larger productions such as ABBA tribute show ABBA Mania and the 1940s musical revue In the Mood, both of which will be staged at Blue Ridge Community College’s Bo Thomas Auditorium.
Those are big moves for the new initiative, but Linders seems equally excited by the small touches that The Center for Art & Inspiration will offer, such as a specialty coffee through a partnership with Independent Beans Roasters, in the Artful Cup Coffee Bar. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life,” she says. “I’ve worked with Michael Jackson! But I never had my own coffee blend.”
WHAT: Grand opening of The Center for Art & Inspiration
WHERE: 125 S. Main St., Hendersonville, thecenterai.com
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.