Asheville and art go hand in hand, and there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the creative expression flowing through our city. On any given night you can attend a concert at one of our beloved music venues, catch a movie at one of the local movie theaters, or watch renditions of Shakespearean plays outside over a picnic. In addition to performance art, there are also fine art demonstrations and classes ranging from glass blowing to pottery to acrylic painting.
If hands-on art isn’t really your style, but you’re still interested in the art scene, we’re happy to share that there are plenty of places throughout Asheville where you can get your fill of art in its many forms. From expertly-crafted architecture to vibrant murals blanketing the urban landscape, you can discover these gems on your own or with the help of local tour-guides.
Asheville Urban Trail & Art Murals
The casual two hour Urban Trail tour highlights 30 different sites that memorialize individuals and their achievements in the form of sculptures, plaques, and etchings. One such stop is the life-size Flat Iron sculpture-a facetious nod to the early 20th-century architectural trends evident throughout the city. The tour is chocked full of remarkable lore that will help you recognize and appreciate the many delights that await you around every corner of the city. If you feel like going off the urban trail, Asheville also has much to offer in the way of outdoor art and murals. New murals spring up often in a city filled with artists, but these are some of our favorite must-sees while you’re here:
Lexington Gateway Murals
The iconic gateway that supports the I-240 bridges and marks the entry into downtown was a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Asheville Mural Project in 2008. This artistic investment radically transformed the otherwise bleak, concrete buildings into a vibrant time capsule for regional stories and aspirations. With nods to conservation and culture, you’ll find the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel and local “saints” that have contributed to the community. This colorful collection offers the warmest welcome into our beloved city.
Roosting in a narrow alley on a side street off Lexington Avenue, you’ll find local artist Molly Must’s larger-than-life mural that nods to the agricultural roots of that spot where chickens would congregate and roam freely nearly a century ago. The spot is famously rumored to be haunted and has drawn paranormal enthusiasts in addition to art enthusiasts. No matter your interest, this is definitely a “must” stamp for your mural passport.
Shindig on the Green
The Shindig on the Green mural is a colorful tribute to the long-running music series that takes place in Pack Square Park just beside it every summer. This family-friendly event has live bluegrass, clogging, and 'mountain dance' that begins at sundown every Saturday from 7-10 p.m. in July-September. Check out the mural before enjoying the delicious food on site and dancing the night away.
Wedged between Haywood Common and The Whale in West Asheville, this fairly new mural immortalizes the Blue Ridge Mountains and serves as the perfect backdrop for a selfie-made postcard to commemorate your trip. Haywood Common specializes in rustic, Appalachian-grown comfort food, and The Whale that adjoins it is a craft beer collective that showcases local craft beers along with handpicked world-class craft beer from around the globe. Listen to the hum of Haywood Road while enjoying a cold one on the outdoor patio.
Silo & Foundation Walls in the River Arts District
An instagram-worthy spot if ever one existed, the graffiti on this large-scale canvas is well-known for the “Good Vibes” and "Stay Weird" mantra of our quirky city that is usually painted on the old silo alongside a collage of graffiti. However, the message has been changing recently to match the interests of the city. The current “Stay True” embodies the authentic spirit of our city’s inhabitants. The River Arts District where it’s located is riddled with even more social messages and comical expressions mostly rendered in graffiti style, and Foundation Walls is one of the best places to view the designs spread over 13 acres. This stop is a gritty and gorgeous glimpse into quintessential Asheville that cacan’t be missed.
Triangle Park Mural
Located on the corner of Sycamore Alley and South Market Street in downtown Asheville, this colorful and chronological mural is maintained and cared for by The Parks & Rec Department along with a community organization based in the Eagle/Market neighborhood, Just Folks. The mural showcases the history of "The Block," Asheville’s oldest African-American business district, and features significant people in Asheville’s African-American history.
Despite its history as a Black business district and home to the YMI, the oldest Black cultural center in the US, the thriving entrepreneurship once found here was no more after integration. These days, however, you can find the amazing NoirCollectiveAVL in the historic district. A unique boutique shop and art gallery created by and for Black entrepreneurs, it houses the work of some incredible local artists and is a must-see while in downtown. Learn more about this chapter and many others in our city's history by exploring Asheville with artist, poet, and visionary DeWayne Barton. Hood Hugger Tours are an intimate and interactive experience guaranteed to leave you looking at this mountain town with new eyes.
Old Fort Civil Rights Mural
Displayed on Main Street in the small mountain town of Old Fort on the brick wall of what used to be the Sandlin theater, this colorful array pays homage to the little-known account of Old Fort’s civil rights leaders Albert Joyner and George Sandlin. The mural was a project executed by People on the Move for Old Fort, an organization which works to unify and "engage residents in community building efforts that result in a more inclusive and equitable town." This beautifully-rendered tribute aims to honor Old Fort Black history and serves as a beacon of hope for future generations.
The Architecture Trail tour covers 14 different buildings that were built in the 1920s, primarily in Art Deco style. This architectural and artistic style was popular during the 1920s because it included luxurious materials like jade and crystal, as well geometric shapes and stylized patterns that embodied the spirit of prosperity during the Roaring Twenties.
These elegant designs stood through the Great Depression that followed because the city couldn't afford to tear any of them down. Luckily, the economy gradually recovered, and the grandeur of these buildings was preserved. Some of the buildings covered on the tour are definitely worth visiting when the tour is over:
Asheville's Kress Emporium, outlined with ornate terracotta detail, stands as a work of art in and of itself, but its legacy extends inside where the work of over 80 regional artists and craftspeople is showcased along with a wide selection of fine antiques and collectables. Built in 1928, the historic Kress Building is certainly an architectural landmark, and it’s a great place to shop for jewelry, ceramics, wood, fiber, and paintings.
The centrally-located Flatiron Building is another architectural gem located downtown that is surrounded by restaurants, entertainment, and shopping. Designed in 1927, this eight-story building made primarily of brick has a triangular floor plan that mimics a flatiron. Within, Asheville’s Flatrion Building hosts World Coffee Cafe and its outdoor terraced SkyBar. The marble floors and original antique fixtures inside protect its old world charm and make your night out exceptionally resplendent.
The iconic S&W Building, designed and built by Asheville resident Douglas Ellington in 1928, is considered to be the architect’s greatest contribution to the Art Deco style. His other noteworthy accomplishments include First Baptist Church and the Asheville City Building. Currently, this architectural hot spot is home to The Times Bar, which serves up classic cocktails and is guaranteed to transport you back in time with its gold leaf lettering and chandeliers within. By Summer 2021, a chef-curated Food Hall and Market with Bun Intended (Thai Street Food) and Highland taproom will join the trendy bar.
In the same building, you’ll find Save Me the Waltz (named after the novel written by Zelda Fitzgerald while living in Asheville), a jazz club with live music and a cocktail lounge serving up Prohibition-era cocktails, wine, and craft beer.
The Jackson Building was North Carolina's tallest skyscraper when it was completed in 1924, and its Neo-Gothic design stands as a testament to the soaring heights of economy, prestige, and hope during the Roaring Twenties. In its early days, it was used as a clean-air lookout. The city inspector would stand at the top of the building each morning to scan for excessive smoke as the furnaces around the city started up. Also at the top of the building at each corner, you'll find grotesques (commonly mistaken for gargoyles). The only difference between the two is that the well-known Gargoyles have waterspouts designed to remove rain water from the outside walls of the building.
While grotesques do not have this feature, the ones perched on top of the Jackson Building do contain holes to ensure water doesn't freeze in the terracotta. Aside from their practical purpose of removing or preventing water from compromising the integrity of the building, these malformed and monstrous figures were meant to embody their namesake by scaring or warding off evil spirits to safeguard those inside. While the building isn’t currently open to the public, it’s an Asheville staple that still delivers charm and intrigue as a visual landmark.
After strolling the city and snapping pictures of these structural marvels, what better way to pay homage to Asheville's history than over a classic Gin Rickey or Mary Pickford?
Biltmore House & Gardens
Built during America’s “Gilded Age," the Biltmore House and Gardens remains America’s Largest Home today. The massive 8,000-acre Asheville estate was completed over a six-year period and was the product of an entire community of craftsmen. While the 250-room chateau is enough to attract locals and tourists alike, the full offerings of the estate are the primary reason many Asheville travelers make it a part of their vacation plans.
Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the home and the environmental haven that surrounds it draw more than 1 million guests per year. While visiting, be sure to take advantage of the botanical gardens, fine dining, scenic trails, and winery. The Biltmore is the perfect attraction for a family vacation as well as a romantic getaway.
Basilica of Saint Lawrence
Designed by Rafael Guastavino, an artist who came to the area to work on the Biltmore House in the late 1800s, the Basilica of Saint Lawrence was completed in 1909 and is unusual because its construction did not include wooden or steel beams. Instead, Guastavino constructed it entirely with tile and similar materials.
As described in the tour's brochure, the term Basilica is a "special designation given by the Holy Father to certain churches because of their antiquity, dignity, historical importance or significance as a place of worship."
Presently, there are only 56 Basilicas in the United States! Another noteworthy detail of this structure is the stained glass windows which offer you the chance to stand under the largest free-standing elliptical dome in North America.
While all of these installments are inspiring and amusing on their own, they are arguably even more impressive when set against the backdrop of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.