Letter: Does Asheville’s Visitor Center reflect diversity?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I commend Explore Asheville and LaZoom Tours owners Jim and Jennifer Lauzon for their work to “attract diverse visitors to a mostly white city” [“Change of Face: Working to Attract Diverse Visitors to a Mostly White City,” Nov. 14, Xpress]. Someone noticed? Explore Asheville CEO Stephanie Brown’s comments that the organization intends to consciously increase the diversity of the people it portrays and her caution on knowing when not to “use” the content, are likewise commendable. I applaud the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s recent financial support of the YMI Cultural Center and the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center.

But does the Asheville Visitor Center reflect diversity? If you are white, let me suggest walking into the center and imagining that you are black. Do you see yourself in it? I recently walked around the whole area and found only one African-American face, and that was on one brochure, of what seemed like hundreds, for a county assistance agency. What does that say to a black resident or visitor?

Or reverse it, and say you went to some other city as a white person and walked into their visitor center and saw only African-American faces on the walls and on the brochures of businesses, galleries, restaurants and tours. My guess is that you would turn around and walk out at not seeing yourself there and not feeling comfortable, just as I assume many black residents and visitors do here.

If you want to celebrate Asheville’s diversity, go around the block and take a photograph of the kids at the Tempie Avery Montford Center or drive down South French Broad to the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center and photograph kids doing some incredible dance steps. Or drop by the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center and take some photos of the kids in the gym, or people working in the garden or in the kitchen. Blow those up and display on your walls. I would certainly feel more welcome.

I believe that if the city hadn’t leveled Stephens-Lee, the high school that for over 60 years was the center of education, life and culture for the black community, and hadn’t eradicated much of Eagle and Valley streets, Stumptown cuddled up at the side of the Montford Historic District, and the large Southside area of homes, hotels, markets, theaters and other businesses, then residents would still have something to be proud of. And the city would have the “tourist destination” it’s trying so hard to re-create, instead of only historical markers of what used to be.

— Zoe Rhine

Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and received the following response from Erin Leonard, the chamber’s director of communications: “The Asheville Visitor Center is part of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Our staff and volunteers welcome more than 200,000 visitors each year and connect them to local companies and services. We provide opportunities for member businesses and organizations to display their brochures or posters in the Visitor Center. We strive for our membership to represent a broad cross section of Asheville businesses. We appreciate this feedback and agree that creating a welcoming environment is important.”


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18 thoughts on “Letter: Does Asheville’s Visitor Center reflect diversity?

  1. jonathan wainscott

    Thank you Zoe, especially for the last sentence in your letter. Wonderful observations and questions. Thank you for mentioning Stephanie Pace Brown, the BCTDA, and the dwindling genuine African-American community that is being commemorated while being on collective hospice. These historic markers are like tombstones and the kiosk honoring The Block in the new LEAF Center thinggie is like a table of pictures in remembrance of the (soon to be) departed. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

    Thanks also to the Editors for reaching out to the Chamber of Commerce with a question about diversity. If you’d like to meet The Team at the Chamber of Commerce, go here- https://www.ashevillechamber.org/about-us/meet-the-team/
    How would you rate the general level of diversity on that staff? Twenty-four people. One African-American, the building supervisor. They do well on gender balance though with 14 women (including the president Kit Cramer) and 10 men (including the janitor Tony Coswell).
    Moving on to the other quasi-governmental agency, the Buncombe County Tourism Development , headed by Stephanie Pace Brown. This staff ( https://www.ashevillecvb.com/contact-us-2/ ) is 26 people. Twenty-five white people, with 22 women and four men. This agency collects and spends $23M a year from the hotel occupancy tax. Most of that money is used to promote Buncombe County as a tourist destination. By comparison, the Asheville City Schools budget last year was around $35M. Oh, and here’s a link to the Board of Directors for the BCTDA ( https://www.ashevillecvb.com/bctda-board/ )
    Asheville is the second fastest gentrifying city in the country. Is there any wonder why?

    • Enlightened Enigma

      So what is the/your main reason that AVL is the 2nd fastest gentrifying city in the country? maybe it is…

      • Lulz

        Him? He wants to shut down Silverman on the river and then wonder why people are being gentrified out.

        Asheville is being gentrified because you’ve got a bloated government and mismanaged spending priorities due to a bunch of dimwits.

        • Lillian Warren

          Yep.. Totally hypocritical corrupt ruling class. Pseudo liberals. I’m a real liberal I care about the ignorance of the ruling class as they sell their souls, while shutting, folks of color out.
          They did the same to our people, till they found a way to exploit our heritage
          A humble Cherokee.
          This town is a pretentious town..
          An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.. From Steel Magnolias

          • Lulz

            LOL selling their souls? You gotta be joking. What they’re doing is manipulating a bunch of dimwits with a little guilt, a little “morality”, and a lot of lies. If you want diversity then do two things; get out of the way and hold people up to the same standards. I love how leftist accuse everyone else of racism. And yet the low expectations they have of blacks especially is racist in and of itself. Either you are for equal opportunity or your ideology of equal outcomes is based on what you assume the lack of ability of someone due to race or sex. And you need government interference to make up it. Period.

            As I wrote up above. Bunch of dimwits want to rid the river of a place like Silverline that pays some descent wages and then wonder why the area is getting gentrified. Duh. Unbelievable that we’ve witnessed scandals, wasted money, corruption, etc., and voters either re-elect the same people or elect people with the same way of thinking. They’re first and foremost in it for themselves. And then they’re there to line the pockets of their friends, families, and cronies. And if voters are willing to ignore the results of these elections, what in the hell makes you believe that anything is going to change? Higher taxes? LOL, these fools want to pay more money. It’s how the place gets gentrified.

    • Lillian Warren

      Well, I’m not a partisan. I despise Ashevilles phonies..
      I’m a Native American. You me, all you fools are immigrants.
      I’m not to blame for your ignorance. Your heart is black as the coal.
      As my ancestors said”may you choke on enough”

  2. Perceptive

    “So what is the/your main reason that AVL is the 2nd fastest gentrifying city in the country?” No answers, Zoe?

  3. jason

    Asheville isn’t diverse. So, why would the visitor center reflect diversity. Remember the Asheville slogan is “Keep Asheville white”.

    • Lulz

      LOL you got a room to rent out to bring diversity in, right? Don’t wait on the government lulz.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      really ? had not heard that! downtown is pretty diverse most of the time …

      • jason

        Diverse compared to Waynesville or Sylva maybe, but not any other city that claims to be diverse.

        I’ve worked downtown for over 20 years, and there is rarely anybody other than white people walking around.

        • Lillian Warren

          True it’s what we’ve noticed since 183my ancestors forced to walk to Oklahome. Nothing has changed in Asheville since.
          Greed is still harming folks. Poor fools

  4. OzarksRazor

    Asheville is pretty solid in its pallidity and not a whole hell of a lot is going to change that while our POC population continues to rapidly decline, as witnessed over the last few decades. We also need to steer out of this “Beer City” gorge and move beyond every generic “Best _____” branding the BCTDA can toss it’s millions at to entice all of these *mostly white folk* to our [formerly known as…] “artsy” tourist destination.
    PS: https://avltoday.6amcity.com/ashevilles-tourism-industry/
    PSS: It is *Silver-Line and if memory serves, there was never a call to shut down the rail rather make better use of that small stretch of land instead of the hot, wet mess happening in RAD.

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