It's Public Art Week at Strong Towns. For the next few days, we'll be discussing the value of art in public life, the impact of public art on our neighborhoods, and how to ensure that public art is created by and for the people, not through a top-down process.
"A museum without walls." That's how Leslie Anderson, the Downtown Development Director for Asheville, NC describes Asheville's Urban Trail. The 1.7 mile route takes people on a walking tour through Asheville's downtown, stopping at 30 different sculptures which tell the story of Asheville's history. The sculptures range from the playful and quirky — an oversized flat iron resting on its side next to a flat iron building — to the interactive — a large pair of Thomas Wolfe's shoes that children can step into near the Thomas Wolfe Memorial — to the more traditional — a historic bell from City Hall.
The sculptures along the route are meant to be interactive and inviting pieces that you can touch and climb on. That makes them especially attractive to children, but also helps them to blend more seamlessly with their surroundings and to feel almost like characters in the downtown—not like protected pieces of art hanging in a museum.
As local leaders explain in the video below, the creation of the tour was not about building something new from thin air, it was about recognizing the assets that already exist in Asheville—beautiful historic architecture, fascinating cultural history—and framing them in a way that attracts people to the downtown and makes better use of these assets.
The Asheville Trails website explains how accessible the walking tour is and the way it complements the existing businesses downtown:
The urban trail is a great (and free!) way to sightsee in the city, and get a feel for the unique culture that represents Asheville. It also passes by some fantastic restaurants, bars and shops making for a fun afternoon of lunch, shopping and exploring.
By arranging the sculptures throughout Asheville's downtown instead of in one area like a public plaza or sculpture garden, the Urban Trail's designers use public art and history to encourage economic activity and to introduce people to local businesses.
Watch the video below to hear the history of Asheville's Urban Trail, started by a small group of volunteers, and see it up close.