colby caldwell

Seven Visual Art Centers within two hours of Asheville that you should visit in 2019

colby caldwell
Seven Visual Art Centers within two hours of Asheville that you should visit in 2019
Cristina Cordova exhibition at Penland Gallery, 2016. Photo by Dana Moore

Cristina Cordova exhibition at Penland Gallery, 2016. Photo by Dana Moore

by Ursula Gullow

Living in Asheville, it’s easy to get lulled into the sense that this city is the only beacon of contemporary arts programming in this region. With institutions like Center for Craft, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (BMCM+AC) and the Asheville Art Museum, we forget to consider places in proximity that have comparable arts programming. Often, if we’re looking for quality visual art programs outside of town, it’s more likely that we visit a museum in a nearby urban center – like Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Winston-Salem, or Charlotte – than think about destinations closer to home.


But there are some noteworthy art centers in the vicinity of Asheville, and they might be even more interesting because of their willingness to show emerging or regional talent. To help you navigate your way through this corner of Appalachia’s best visual art centers, Holler has compiled a list of reputable art institutions within a two-hour driving distance of downtown Asheville.


To be clear, we are strictly considering art centers here – places that regularly program visual art exhibitions, visiting artist programs, lectures, workshops, film nights, and other events for the public. Places we are not considering for this list: performance centers, campus galleries, DIY spaces, artist collectives or art councils (future coverage on those coming soon).


So, fill up your gas tanks and plug these coordinates into your GPS. We’ve ranked these according to their proximity to Asheville. Be sure to check websites for hours of operation and admission fees. (Newsflash: They’re all free!)


Upstairs Artspace  

52 min., 44.4 miles from Asheville

49 South Trade St., Tryon, NC 28782


This Tryon institution has managed to successfully pull off two decades of exciting exhibitions, film nights, and artist talks. The space is divided into two main galleries, with generally two exhibits happening simultaneously. Mostly regional artists are shown, but some notable national artists  like James Esber have exhibited.

Opening this month: Seem: a joint exhibition by Susan Alta Martin and Stacey Davidson (March 23-May 3

Past highlight: The Annual Drawing Marathon (2019 date to be determined)


Penland School of Craft

1 hr., 50 miles from Asheville

67 Doras Trail, Bakersville, NC 28705


Penland School of Craft (or Penland, as it’s called) was founded in 1929 by Lucy Morgan to support the burgeoning local craft scene at that time. Today Penland is renown for its quality workshops, led by top-notch artists from around the country. The John & Robyn Horn Gallery, Lucy Morgan Gallery, and the educational Visitors Center Gallery showcase contemporary craft by Southeast artists and Penland alumni. This isn’t just a regional staple, it’s a national treasure.


Upcoming highlights: Summer art auctions to support programming at Penland.

Past highlight: Blacksmith Elizabeth Brim’s conversation with Anthony Bourdain

John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at Western Carolina University  

1 hr., 52 miles

199 Centennial Dr., Cullowhee, NC 28723


On the campus of Western North Carolina (WCU), the Bardo Arts Center includes four galleries, which feature artists from across WNC, the U.S., and the world. Besides their growing permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, the Bardo has a Public Art Program – curious visitors can explore outdoor sculptures installed across the campus using this guide.


Recent Highlight: Ann Hamilton lecture

Current Highlight: Outspoken: Paintings by America Meredith

Spartanburg Art Museum

1 hr. 14 min., 68.2 miles

200 E. St John St., Spartanburg, SC 29306


Okay, full disclosure: No one on the Holler staff has yet visited the Spartanburg Art Museum! It’s a shame, really, when you consider that their website boasts that they are the oldest contemporary art museum in the south, listing tons of programs that they host. Included on the list is an event called ART²

which invites non visual-artists to create a performance or installation responding to artwork on display. Holler heartily supports creative engagements with the general public, and is making it a point to visit SAM in 2019.


Currently on view: Traditions Compounded (10 artists use traditional approaches to painting and drawing, and “turn them on their head.”)

Coming soon: A Gallery of One’s Own, an all women’s art exhibition

The Bascom

1hr. 41 min., 84.2 miles

323 Franklin Rd., Highlands, NC 28741


Enter The Bascom campus through a covered bridge onto six scenic acres with stone amphitheaters, a creekside pavilion, the Winkler Sculpture and Nature Trail system, multiple exhibition spaces, and rustic studios. When Holler visited The Bascom last fall, the main exhibition featured a variety of artwork from their permanent collection with everything from Cherokee pottery to Warhol prints. The exhibition was small, but eclectic enough to leave us curious for more. We recommend you check out the  waterfalls on the twisty drive into Highlands, and grab dinner at one of the local restaurants for a terrific day trip.


Most recent exhibition: Soundwave, a group show of Western Carolina MFA and BFA students

Be on the lookout for: Classes, workshops and fundraising events.


Turchin Center for the Visual Arts

1 hr. 49 min. 83.7 miles

423 West King St., Boone, NC 28608


The Turchin is associated with Appalachian State University, and its large facility can hold up to six exhibitions at a time. During Holler’s visit in November 2018, the main gallery featured an fascinating exhibition of work by Australian and New Zealand artists. Another gallery housed an extensive collection of contemporary woodcuts. Paintings by Asheville artist Hannah Cole were shown in an intimate mezzanine gallery. Turchin is located in the heart of Boone – a town that rivals Asheville for its eclectic shops, restaurants, and scenic views, making this another excellent WNC adventure.


Current Exhibition: Terraria Gigantica: The World Under Glass, Photographs by Dana Fritz

Don’t miss: The Rosen Sculpture Exhibition, situated in outdoor, public settings across Appalachian State University’s campus.

Knoxville Museum of Art

1hr. 56 mins., 116 miles

1050 Worlds Fair Park Dr., Knoxville, TN 37916


Depending on the route you take and what time of day you travel, it is possible to get to Knoxville in just under two hours, so we included this mid-size art museum on our list. It’s been a few years since Holler paid KMA a visit, but we remember that the building was contemporary and cool – a welcome respite from the Knoxville heat. At that time an impressive collection of known and emerging artists like Tamory Dodge and Ron Mueck were exhibited, along with several on-site installations. So next time you’re visiting the “Scruffy City” for an event like the Big Ears Festival, be sure to step away and check out KMA.


Currently on view: Recent Art from East Tennessee and Beyond

Coming soon: Design by Time – International designers explore the notion of time and how it can be expressed through textiles, carpets, ceramics, lighting fixtures, vessels, clocks, and furniture.