The early days of Blue Spiral 1 and the best years of my life

LET THERE BE ART: In 1991, John Cram opened Blue Spiral 1 on Biltmore Avenue. The art gallery was an early part of downtown Asheville's revitalization. (photo courtesy of Wendy Outland)

In the summer of 1991, having just moved here from Florida, I interviewed with John Cram at New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Village. He hired me to manage his second business, Blue Spiral 1, a contemporary fine art and craft gallery that had opened a block south of Pack Square at the beginning of the year. It was a thrill to be in that beautiful three-story space, but it was also unsettling, as there was initially very little foot traffic. The larger downtown businesses had moved to shopping centers or the mall, and several of those that remained did not survive.

During those first few months, I’d often arrive to open the building and have to step over a homeless man, curled up with his bottle, in the entrance vestibule. Though the Police Department was only a block away, it was risky to open the back door of the building to accept deliveries, as there was a good bit of drug dealing (and using) going on in the alley. Panhandlers were part of the daily scene on Biltmore Avenue, as were the hookers under the Interstate 240 overpass on Lexington. However, as more businesses began to revitalize the area, law enforcement worked at cleaning up the problems.

I spent most the ’90s in the heart of downtown Asheville, and it was one of the best times of my life. Talk about a window on the world! It seemed as though, sooner or later, nearly everyone in town — as well as big-name stars making movies in the area — would walk through Blue Spiral 1’s doors. At one point, I was scooting around a corner upstairs and nearly had a full-body-slam experience with Robert Redford, missing him by mere inches. And of course, John Cram was always coming up with another idea for an exhibit, event or a new business. It was like a wild roller coaster ride!

Other memories include:

• Connie Bostic’s wonderfully edgy gallery, Zone One Contemporary, across the street from Blue Spiral 1.

• The French Broad Food Co-op, a short walk away, offering healthy and delicious eats long before there were many lunchtime choices downtown. “Wise Woman” Roz was (and still is) happy to provide in-depth information about all things health-related.

• The Asheville Art Museum in 1991, located in the bowels of the Civic Center (horrors!), moved into its new Pack Place facility the following year, thanks in large part to the vision of Roger McGuire.

• The early days of Laurey’s Catering, when she opened in a sliver of a space (now home to Lola Salon) in the 60 Biltmore building, where she worked alone prior to moving across the street.

• Gathering at Pack Square Park on summer evenings, back when it was simply a big swath of grass with a low wooden stage, for Shindig on the Green.

• A wee vertical window on Broadway where one could order a crêpe from the sidewalk.

• John Cram’s purchase and renovation of the Fine Arts Theatre, completed in 1997. That was a real circus, as it was unlike anything he’d done before. But the construction crew managed to complete the project on time, without a minute to spare. It was a joy to watch people line up for shows and hear their comments of appreciation for the restored architectural gem. And I was very happy when the “Triple X” sign was gone from the marquee!

The day the double-decker bus arrived — woo HOO! Folks were taking bets on how long that would last…and we were all wrong, thank goodness.

Wendy Outland at Blue Spiral 1
Wendy Outland at Blue Spiral 1

With over 30 years of arts-administration experience, Wendy Outland provides artists with career-development resources and helps galleries and arts organizations function more effectively. Her website is whoknowsart.biz.

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