A rising jewel of the Southern Appalachian art scene is the River Arts District, a small but vibrant commercial section sandwiched between downtown and West Asheville.
Decades ago, the River Arts District may well have been called the River Industrial District. The area sits low along the French Broad River and train line, which made it a perfect location for industries ranging from iron works to chicken farming. These were big businesses for the area during their boom, but eventually they faded over time. Around 1985, the old industrial buildings began to be reopened as artists’ studios, and more recently other businesses started to fill in the gaps. The history of the district is still reflected in many of the building and business names, from 352 Depot Street Studios to The Hatchery.
Today, the district is an ever-expanding complex of studios and galleries that’s also becoming one of Asheville’s culinary and entertainment hubs. There are many types of businesses in the district, from salons to nonprofits. But the area is particularly known for these four main types:
Art Studios and Galleries
As you can imagine, the River Arts District is primarily known for its incredible array of working artists and open studios (Broken Road, Clayspace Co-Op, Constance Williams, Molly Courcelle, and more). More than 200 artists make their living here in mediums ranging from basketry and textiles to glass and metal to photography and paint. Seasonal organized studio strolls allow you to mingle with the artists or see them in action.
All of Asheville is known for its incredible restaurant scene, but there are few spots that boast both the concentration and range of eateries as the RAD (White Duck Taco, The Bull & Beggar, Clingman Cafe, All Souls Pizza). For presidential-quality barbecue, you can brave the lines of 12 Bones Smokehouse’s original location, a favorite of President Obama. Or for a taste of the mid-century midwest, try the Smokey Park Supper Club.
The Grey Eagle, a nationally-renowned music venue in the RAD, brings in top talents from around the region and across the country, and has bubbled up to become one of the acclaimed spots in the Southeast for live entertainment. The Magnetic Theatre, at 375 Depot Street, is the only venue in the southeast staging all-original works. And you can hear the sounds of both professional musicians and sun-soaked, guitar-bearing locals as you sit outside by the river at The Bywater.
Brewing some of the finest craft beer in the region, Wedge Brewing Company is an Asheville favorite for beer, food trucks, outdoor movies, and cornhole tournaments. Recently arrived, the centerpiece business of the RAD has quickly become New Belgium Brewing Company, one of the largest craft beer companies in the country (based out of Fort Collins, Colorado). After several years of construction and greenway improvements, New Belgium recently began pouring from their $140 million east coast production facility on the river.
Learn more about businesses currently in operation in Asheville’s River Arts District.