How would you characterize the 2019 local art scene?
The year in local art could be summed up in hellos, goodbyes and triumphant returns. In the first category: public art installations such as Cleaster Cotton’s “Going to Market” and Art Ecologie’s project for Celebrating African Americans Through Public Art (in collaboration with local artists Joseph Pearson and Phyllis Utley) — both on The Block — along with murals (the fresco at the Haywood Street Congregation, a collaborative work at the Mission Cancer Program parking deck and the likeness of Catawba Falls by local painter Ian Wilkinson, installed on the public stairwell connecting Battery Park and Wall Street). Plus literary launches including Disappearing, Inc. by National Endowment for the Arts fellowship recipient Brandon Amico, Appalachian Book of the Dead by author Dale Neal and Jim Gardner’s spoken-word-to-music project Poetry DNA. And we can’t forget album releases Abominable Creatures by Natural Born Leaders, Sleeping on the Woodlands by Alex Krug Combo, Dark Synthetics by Secret Shame and Rejuvination by Ryan RnB Barber, among many others.
And the goodbyes?
Perhaps “goodbyes” is too permanent a word for the second category, which includes the announcement of hiatuses such as All Go West Music Festival and the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam. Captain’s Bookshelf announced it would move its brick-and-mortar business to an online-only platform, and beloved busker Abby the Spoon Lady let fans know she was parting ways with Asheville’s overpriced rents.
How about the triumphant returns?
And, finally, a number of art institutions reopened following extensive (and expensive) renovations and expansions: the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, the Center for Craft and the Asheville Art Museum. Also returning: Connect Beyond Festival and The East End/Valley Street Community Heritage Festival; and N.C. Poet Laureate Jackie Shelton Green, who made multiple stops in Western North Carolina this year.
What were some other highlights from the year?
In addition to covering these moves, the Xpress arts section kept tabs on local literature, music, dance, fringe arts, visual arts, crafts, drama, comedy, puppetry, performance art and more. It’s our weekly mission over here to cover as many art forms and creative undertakings as possible — and to include the voices of makers, movers and shakers of all sorts of backgrounds, perspectives and creative communities.
What were your favorite articles and what excites you about 2020?
Among the stories we’re proudest of are “A Real Bowtie Stand-up Guy” (about hip-hop artist and wrestling champion Marcus “Mook” Cunningham), “More Than Good Technique” (celebrating Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre’s 40th anniversary) and “Putting the Oomph in Oompah” (following the trajectory of Asheville’s Mountain Top Polka Band from a church-based collective to an in-demand Octoberfest outfit) — just to name a few. Looking ahead to 2020, we’re hoping to look at local festival trends, makers from underrepresented communities and neighborhoods, innovative approaches to funding of the arts and arts programming, and a few new additions to Asheville’s vibrant creative industries that we can’t share just yet. Stay tuned!