Join the discussion: Is Asheville still affordable for artists?

There’s a thoughtful discussion taking place on the Mountain Xpress Forums, one that anyone with an interest in Asheville and the local arts scene might like to comment on.

Steve Shanafelt, arts and entertainment editor, wants to know if you think Asheville is still affordable for local artists.

As Shanafelt puts it: “Asheville once attracted drove of artists and craftspeople due to it’s friendly community, affordable housing and supportive community. But, with real-estate prices still climbing and the city’s culture seemingly changing to reflect a wealthier and less arts-oriented brand of resident, will there be a place for artists?”

Here are a few comments from readers:

Revo: “i think the river district is already gaining wide attention as a spot for amazing development, (as pointed out by Xpress a few issues back), but I do think some developers are seeing that without that art community, the draw is just not as great for people.”

Marc at Orbit DVD: “Fortunately, I think that the brakes are already being applied on the rapid growth that we were seeing. I know of one large development near me that probably isn’t going to happen now, and I’m hopeful that our river district will remain untouched.”

sammule: “Today, it costs about the same to live here (at least within the city) as many major cities, when you take into account wages and such. So perhaps the artists are only the first wave in the revitalization process, and now we are beginning to see a new stage; recession.

Go here to leave your comment on the topic.

There’s plenty more to talk about.

Go here to comment on what type of shop or store you think downtown Asheville needs that it doesn’t currently have.

Go here to comment on Asheville’s music scene.

And go here for general Mountain Xpress questions and answers.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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16 thoughts on “Join the discussion: Is Asheville still affordable for artists?

  1. Asheville’s real estate prices are fairly high, but that would be inevitable in any town that has already established itself as a hub for the arts. One problem is that an inevitable migration of artists from intown out to surrounding areas is hindered by the increasing cost of rural real estate across WNC. An answer, at least for starting artists, would be the development of live/work studios rather than just the sort of studio space being offered in the River district. This sort of conversion (of older industrial buildings) as seen in somewhere like North Adams, MA offers an affordable solution to the arts community- combining the otherwise often insurmountable costs of separate home and studio rent.

  2. jen

    Is Asheville still affordable for artists? Absolutely not. It is affordable if you have parents to pay your bills, or you are retired. As for the average artist…it is not affordable. Asheville cannot support all of the artists that are here now. The majority of artists I know work jobs that are totally unrelated to their interests and they create in their spare time. Few of them are able to make a living with their art sales alone or rarely sale art at all.

  3. djmrthebest

    well, in a word, no. in two words HELL NO. I happen to be in a very lucky living situation where my rent is reasonably cheap. however, most people i know, artists or non-artist, are paying through the roof.oh and every single artist i know(painter,musician,sculpter, whatever) has a shitty job at some restaurant where they are underpaid and disgruntled. i have friends in Atlanta and Charlotte who pay less than many people i know here in asheville. its a travesty when the rich people who move here to retire are driving up the cost of living for the people who made this city a city worth moving to.

  4. b.c.w.

    Don’t forget about us musicians in this discussion as well. ;-) We fight every day to get paid fairly for gigs and seek out regular work. Strangely enough, the amount of available, well-paying regular gigs (jazz and otherwise) abound in Greenville, SC and areas around Asheville, and most places are successful and happy with the music they bring in! 90% of the jazz musicians in Asheville end up playing out of town more often than not because the lack of work here demands it. It seems that some venue owners in Asheville want music but don’t want to pay for it, even for a well-established, talented band. I’ve been here long enough to see the cycles, and unfortunately it doesn’t get any better on the upswings. I recently heard a fellow musician who has been here for over 20 years say that the average pay for a gig hasn’t increased that much in that time frame, and you still have some venues that will support other bands undercutting the “standard” just to save a few bucks. Asheville is in need of a musician’s union in more ways than one, for that reason and many others. I play in 4 bands and freelance as well, in addition to working a day gig in graphic design (another field that it is difficult to make a living in). Making a living at the arts in ANY form in Asheville is becoming increasingly difficult, but it seems to have really taken a hit in the last 4 or 5 years.

  5. djmrthebest

    as much as i hate to admit it, this is a pointless thread. the only thing that will happen is a select few who have absolutely no say whatsoever will read it. they cant do anything about it.

    what to do to make it change???
    no clue.

    will it ever change??
    doubt it.

    yes i am an artist.yes i am a musician. despite all this shit, I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE. i consider asheville my town and i’ll do whatever it takes to keep this the best underground arts town in the southeast, getting paid to do so or not.

  6. i’d go one further to say making a living in the arts ANYWHERE is pretty tough. is asheville more “conducive” than other cities?

  7. slowlocal

    are there plans by city council to keep the arts district affordable? not according to a conversation i had yesterday with a long-time artist in that area – his rent (and i’m sure others) has been consistently increasing as plans for development increase. can city council look to examples of other arts communities on how they can preserve affordable art space? do they care??? and thanks to bcw on the shout-out for musicians. need a musicians union….this is a problem in most hot music scene areas and is unjust. music brings in the crowd. how are musicians to make it? purchasing music is practically passe in these days of unconscious burning and ripping….when asked to help with this year’s earth day asheville, i insisted on $1000 per local band for the concert. i’ve heard several comments that “it’s too much” and don’t “spoil” local bands – i say, bullshit, that’s not much in the grand scheme of trying to support yourself and/or your family.

  8. Maybe I’m wrong, but the tone of some of this conversation seems to be that Artists are somehow deserving of the ability to support themselves through their ‘art.’ Says who? Shouldn’t you be happy to create, even if you have to wait tables or dumpster-dive to be able to make the day-to-day work?
    Yes, artists are important for society, but I’m not sure that declaring one’s self an “Artist” makes one deserving of making a ‘living’ doing it.
    I know that much of the art that inspires me is done by folks who feel so compelled to express their own message and muse that they just do it, no matter what.

    Maybe another question is “Is Asheville, as a whole, interested in supporting the artists it contains?”

  9. b.c.w.

    hey sammule… you raise a valid point, but i don’t sense from anyone here that they feel artists are “entitled” to anything… if we felt we were “entitled” to a living in something, we’d have chosen a different profession, as there are sure-fire moneymaking professions out there that require far less effort and struggle than the arts. we do it because ultimately we LOVE it, are MOVED to do it, and can’t imagine not being creative. to partake in a bit of turnabout here, if one labels oneself a “banker” or a “lawyer”, why does that automatically entitle one to a high salary, even though some musicians get just as much or more training in their field (and sometimes spend as much money doing it) than their “non-artistic” counterparts, who are seen as less essential in society? to borrow a point from your post, if an artist you love created something and charged for you to see it, would you feel their art was ruined because they asked for some compensation for the time they took to create it? would you change your opinion of them because they felt inclined to ask for money in the pursuit of their passion?

    the point is that asheville is seen as an arts “mecca” and people love their arts here, but the people who want that art don’t seem to feel that they should have to pay for it, or at least pay fairly for it. some will say “well, music isn’t a service and you can’t put a price tag on it, and if you do, it diminishes its impact.” saying that implies that you are making a judgement call as to what activity or profession in society does or does not deserve compensation. artists have to eat, pay rent, and LIVE, not to mention that all those things we create art with, the raw materials, cost MONEY.

    most any artist works a day job because they realize that they need to pay the bills and eat while they ARE creating if they can’t do it full time yet. i’ve done that for years and am FINE with it, and have made lots of progress in my music career. it doesn’t happen overnight. if an artist can, in the end make a living without having to work a day job, they should be able to, and people should realize that demands fair compensation for their efforts. i guess it’s a little harder in the visual arts to validate that since there is a period of “down time” when one isn’t painting/writing/sculpting, etc., but with music or other “time-based” or “time-sensitive” arts, time is money, and there is a generally agreed-upon standard for pay amongst the gigging music community, a standard that isn’t always echoed by venues. when you factor in the time that is never “compensated”, time spent writing, rehearsing, practicing, booking gigs, PR work, etc., the arts (music in particular) is/are a FULL TIME JOB! none of us are out here expecting to get rich, only to be able to live and be viable in an area which supposedly “loves” us.

  10. travelah

    I have always thought that artists having to live on potato soup built up their character and long after they died, wealthy patrons come along and start buying up their works. Think about it for a moment. The artists today that earn a handsome living produce garbage for the most part while those least appreciated by this ill society have produced the classics and masters of our world. “Artists” seem to have lost sight of the truth that art is a passion and not an economic lifeline (unless you are a dealer). My solution is for artists to get day jobs and begin to regard their “passion” as just that. If you can make a living doing it, great. If you can’t, either adapt or quit. Society does not owe you a living or subsidized housing.

  11. popsicle

    i for one certainly refuse to make art for any society that won’t subsidize my housing.

  12. travelah

    popsickle, don’t worry, somebody 200 years down the road might unbury your treasures and discover what they think is a masterpiece. I(t won’t pay your rent today but … who wants it today?

  13. New York City is our nation’s art mecca, and yet that hasn’t stopped thousands of artists and musicians to move there yearly.

    Like I said in the forums, Asheville isn’t easy for ANYBODY. The last 11 years have been a struggle for us, but we moved here because we love what this town has to offer for us and our kids. We have lived in other towns with cheaper rent and housing, but we were miserable.

    To all artists and musicians, I say let your experiences and struggles in Asheville motivate you to become better at your craft.

  14. Nam Vet

    “I have always thought that artists having to live on potato soup built up their character and long after they died, wealthy patrons come along and start buying up their works. Think about it for a moment. The artists today that earn a handsome living produce garbage for the most part while those least appreciated by this ill society have produced the classics and masters of our world. “Artists” seem to have lost sight of the truth that art is a passion and not an economic lifeline (unless you are a dealer). My solution is for artists to get day jobs and begin to regard their “passion” as just that. If you can make a living doing it, great. If you can’t, either adapt or quit. Society does not owe you a living or subsidized housing.”

    So well said travelah, I can’t add a thing to it. I’m just thankful you had the starving artists eat a vegetarian diet rather than dead animal body parts. :)

  15. My dad used to remind me often: it’s not how much you make, but what you do with what you make. So given that fact I’d say you can pull it off here as well as anywhere. Sure does seem like there is the dawn of a scene here that I believe transcends any of that wistful longing for the old days of ‘Art-Asheville’.

  16. slowlocal

    i repeat my question….are there city council plans to keep the arts district affordable for artists? and for those uninformed, the river arts district is for studio space only (not housing) and my argument was not for “subsidized housing” but affordable studio space. Also, i’m contending that music venues share the wealth with the musicians that are their bread and butter. The venues with the biggest draw have live music – no?

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