By Caroline Colman
The Asheville Art Museum is a widely honored museum which was founded 68 years ago, and continues to make strides to allow the museum to be more accessible and entertaining in the 21st century.
Lauren Bacchus, Museum Shop and Event Coordinator explained that the museum is detail oriented in all aspects of the museum. The museum’s visitor services is specifically called that as opposed to the visitor center so as not to create confusion with the city of Asheville’s official visitor center.
The museum shop contains a variety of items for sale including art, books, and toys. Many of these objects are made locally and some are sold in connection with exhibits on display in the museum.
John Geci is one of the featured local artists. Geci is a glass blower who lives in Bakersville, North Carolina with his wife and daughter. According to Geci’s website, he developed an interest in glass during his time at Hartwick College in New York. In 1994 he came to North Carolina to attend the Penland School to develop his glass blowing skills. Geci was exposed to art and museums starting from a very young age.
“I can’t remember a time my folks weren’t taking me to museums, I don’t know when that started but that was something that was always a part of my life,” said Geci.
Geci has experienced a change in the meaning of people purchasing his art throughout the years.
“I very clearly remember the first time I had work in a gallery and the first day that I had a piece in a gallery and it sold. I just remember feeling like it was such a surreal experience that people wanted something that I could create. Now it’s sort of, 20 years later it’s more of a ‘how can I have my work continue to grow and continue to change and continue to be interesting to me’ and ‘how can I inspire myself to push new ideas and actualize new concepts’,” said Geci.
In addition to the museum shop, the museum also has an education department that hosts several events each month. According to the Asheville Art Museum website, during 2014 and 2015 the museum hosted 496 programs, which equals 32,000 hours.
These programs are dedicated to helping people learn more about art and making the museum interactive. The programs range from Tot Time, a monthly activity for preschoolers to film screenings and discussions for adults of any age.
Erin Shope, serves as the school and family programs manager and has worked for the Asheville Art Museum for the past 15 years. Shope went to a liberal arts school, has prior museum experience, and has worked in education but has no formal art education.
The programs that the museum holds both on and off the museum site reach thousands of children per year. For adults the reach is even wider, serving between 50,000 and 100,000 patrons in one year. There are multiple ways that the museum attracts its patrons.
“In some ways it’s simple because it depends on the artwork that’s on exhibition, that attracts a multitude of audiences just on its own,” said Shope.
In an effort to effectively reach the entire Asheville community the museum offers various programs at different times depending on who the program is geared toward. The Tot Time event is held on weekday mornings, when school age children would not be able to attend. Shope has two colleagues in her department. One works with younger groups and the other works with college and adult programs to ensure that all ages are reached.
The outreach programs that the education department coordinates help students learn how to be literate in the art world.
“It works like an artist residency. We have a team of teaching artists, they go directly to the schools, they take lessons that have been designed by our staff, they take artworks- images of artworks out of our collection, and they are working in a classroom once a week across ten weeks,” said Shope.
Through this program, the students are able to gain the correct vocabulary and understanding of art necessary to maximize an experience in a museum.
Most of the programs take the students to the Asheville art museum on a field trip towards the end of the 10 weeks. When they come to the museum they are able and excited about delving deeper into the art with the background knowledge they gained.
The museum is also the regional sponsor for the scholastic art award once a year. During this competition students submit their artwork, a team of independent judges determine the winners, the winners are put on exhibition, and an awards ceremony is held at the museum.
The Asheville Art Museum cites itself as the only official art museum in 23 counties of western North Carolina. However, due to a growing online presence, the museum’s reach has the potential reach anybody who wants to experience it.