Peak Creativity

Ascend to new artistic heights in Asheville

A dancer in gauzy fabric twirls against the backdrop of the blue ridge mountains
Vanessa Owen of Stewart/Owen Dance performs with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

Asheville, North Carolina, has been ranked as one of the top ten medium-sized communities in the United States for arts vibrancy. Engage in conversations with the local artists—painters, sculptors, musicians, and performers—residing and creating in these southern Blue Ridge Mountains, and they’ll tell you why. Nowhere else can boast such abundant natural beauty coupled with a community of exceptionally hospitable people, making Asheville an enticing destination for travelers seeking an artistic spark.

Painter Jeremy Russell.

“The tradition of welcoming eccentricity is what really charmed me about Asheville,” says Julyan Davis, a British-born American artist who has lived in the city for twenty years. Davis made his way from London to Alabama to study Bonapartist exiles three decades ago. Along the way, he found himself driving through North Carolina and was quickly transfixed by Asheville. 

“Initially, it was the landscape, then I became drawn to the folklore of this area,” he says. His haunting oil on canvas series called Murder Ballads draws inspiration from the traditional folk songs of the Appalachians and interprets the “culture of honor” in the American South.

“I have many friends who are ballad singers,” Davis says, a fact that he recognizes is only possible in this unique region where the song tradition took root in the 1700s with the arrival of immigrants from the British Isles. 

Davis has found appreciators of his work across the United States, but while in town, he keeps his work at Blue Spiral 1 downtown, a gallery visit he encourages not just for his own sake. “I’ve shown there for years,” he says. “The level of craft and art in Asheville is world-class.” 

Asheville Art Museum.

Another draw? The camaraderie artists in Asheville enjoy. Jeremy Russell, an abstract expressionist painter and the co-owner of Russell Armstrong Gallery—which he runs with his partner, painter Alicia Anne Armstrong—is recognized today for his vivid landscapes. The former film set designer trained at the University of North Carolina Asheville and saw success as a muralist in the city, too. In fact, you can still see his mural work at places like the award-winning La Bodega restaurant and Hunter Banks Fly Fishing—which, he adds, “every visitor should check out.” Russell might still be painting murals if not for the encouragement of his peers, who urged him to make fine art his career. That, he says, is another element that makes Asheville unique.

Russell’s close friend Moni Hill, another area artist, who shows at Marquee Asheville, agrees. “The beauty of Asheville is it will support any authentic endeavors.” That attitude isn’t limited to art, either. The city has seen a boom in innovative restaurants such as Chai Pani, Cultura, Cucina 24, and Rhubarb, in the past decade. While renowned for its food culture, Asheville is equally a hub for music enthusiasts. In 2019, Rolling Stone magazine declared the destination “the New Must-Visit Music City,” highlighting venues such as The Orange Peel, The Grey Eagle, and Asheville Music Hall. And then there’s the area’s rich heritage of craft, making it a haven for potters, blacksmiths, glassblowers, and metalworkers. 

The gallery at Blue Spiral 1.

Perhaps this is all thanks to the history that started this mountain community. “The Asheville area has been a destination for decades,” Russell says. First it was a frontier outpost. Then it became a therapeutic health haven thanks to its mountain air. With the railroad’s arrival, more and more visionaries, poets, painters, and explorers couldn’t resist the pull of this captivating place. By 1933, the nearby town of Black Mountain was home to one of the most avant-garde schools in the country, Black Mountain College, whose faculty and students are a who’s who of the twentieth century’s most influential artists, including choreographer Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage, printmaker Anni Albers, and figurative expressionist Elaine de Kooning. But those names were only the beginning of a roster of extraordinary makers, creatives, craftspeople, dancers, performers, musicians, and designers.

“We’re a place filled with people who are tuned in to beauty,” Hill says. It’s no wonder this mountain town continues to inspire an artistic community deeply rooted in place and ever evolving in creativity. Fortunately, visitors can take a piece home with them from one of dozens of galleries around Asheville.

Plan your artistic Asheville getaway at and download the Explore Asheville app.