The Fine Arts Theatre, in its current incarnation, was opened as a first-run art- and independent-film theater in 1996 by John Cram as an extension of his decades-long venture in the arts in Asheville. He opened the fine art gallery Blue Spiral 1 next door in 1991, and saw opportunity in the old theater to bring quality art films to Asheville while helping to revitalize a depressed downtown.
Built in 1946, the theater opened in 1947 as The Strand, a mainstream, first-run movie house of the day. During the 1960s and ’70s the theater transformed — typical for the era — into a “Grindhouse,” becoming an XXX theater in the early ’70s. The theater shuttered in 1986, mostly due to the advent of VHS tapes.
We take very seriously the history of the theater and its many lives. In 2001, we restored the “colored entrance” box office window where nonwhites had to purchase tickets and sit only in the balcony. The restored “segregation window” is now used by groups, such as The Center for Diversity Education at UNCA, to educate students and others about the history of racism in Asheville.
The Fine Arts Theatre is the only locally owned, first-run movie house in Asheville, and the only theater in the region that regularly hosts fundraisers for organizations like Our VOICE, the Rape Crisis Center of Asheville and Buncombe County, and many other groups over the years (too numerous to list here). We have featured films that tackle tough subjects like military sexual trauma (The Invisible War); rape (The Greatest Silence); and yes, even pornography (Inside Deep Throat).
The Fine Arts Theatre is also the home of QFest, Asheville’s LGBT film festival. Qfest brings films and filmmakers to Asheville that spotlight the struggles and discrimination that++++ those in the LGBT community often face. Another featured festival is the Asheville Jewish Film Festival, often featuring many films dealing with those pesky “isms.”
The historical slides are not intended to make light of the theater’s history, nor to glorify pornography or sexism. Rather, they serve as a reminder of how far we have come as a community. We are proactively anti “ism,” and the writer may have understood this and other facts better by simply asking why the slide was there instead of making assumptions about the owner and management that are simply not true.
— Neal Reed
Fine Arts Theatre