A packed house in Lord Auditorium was the scene for the fourth program in the library’s series on Asheville in the 1980s. Sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room, the July 27 event was a lively retrospective on the vibrant art world in 1980s Asheville.
Phyllis Lang, former editor of The Arts Journal, and Deborah Austin who was head of the Arts Council in the ’80s, co-moderated the event.
The moderators kicked off the program with a visual sprint through art and artists of 1980s Asheville: a lively slide presentation of Asheville’s rich artistic environment covering dance, crafts, theater, photography, literature, poetry and musicians.
A panel of key players from the era — Dick Kowal, Ann Dunn, Connie Bostic and Ralph Redpath — shared their insights into why and how the arts not only survived, but thrived in Asheville during the ’80s.
Interdisciplinary collaboration was a recurring theme throughout the evening.
WCQS veteran Dick Kowal reminisced on his early days with Howard Hanger’s jazz ensemble before joining the radio station as classical music host. Later in the evening Kowal was joined by WCQS colleagues Chip Kaufmann and Barbara Sayer.
Kaufmann, who was in theater before joining WCQS in 1983, recalled how his scene in “Catch 22” at Bele Chere with Blue Plate Special took an unexpected turn. Barbara Sayer and Deborah Austin looked back to the third week in July, precisely 30 years ago, when WCQS broadcast live from Bele Chere the Billy Taylor Trio. With the stage at the S & W building on Patton, they looked down Haywood Street and Patton Avenue and watched as the crowds filled the streets as far as the eye could see.
Sayer summed up the collaborative spirit: “I’m standing up here with people who actually create. They are makers of all kinds of things, and I’m not. I just simply work somewhere that cares about the fact that they do.”
Dancer Ann Dunn noted that there was a healthy dose of dance criticism in the ’80s which pushed the art to refinement. Dunn’s work with the Community Arts Council – a huge outreach program — brought dance to factories, tobacco barns, and dancers downtown on fire trucks. She worked with schools to bring dance to children. She also recalled that local businesses became involved, assisting with promotional tools and in some cases materials for production.
Tony Kiss, reporter and critic with Asheville Citizen-Times for over 30 years, recalled his brief experience as actor rather than reporter, as an extra in the movie “Bull Durham.”
Ralph Redpath reminisced on the challenges of casting “A Raisin in the Sun,” and his delight when Becky Stone walked onto the stage.
Connie Bostic, who brought works by Robert Mapplethorpe and Keith Haring to Asheville in her World Gallery, commented on the positive role of art criticism at the Citizen-Times, and the influence of Porge and Lewis Buck and others.
Ann Whisenhunt, who worked in Asheville’s Parks and Recreations Department in the ’80s and ’90s, said that for her the richness of the ’80s was indeed the “wonderful collaborative spirit that was evident among everybody; among all of the arts organizations, and particularly the City of Asheville’s Parks and Recreation Department that had a very strong focus on the arts, and making sure that it reached all of the neighborhoods.” Through programs such as Quality Forward’s Sunday in the Park, local artists were brought together with local audiences, in venues that provided large gatherings.
Acclaimed photographer Andrea Clark, whose sensitive and powerful photos chronicled the effects of urban renewal in the ’70s, entertained the audience with an account of her 1980s acting experience with the Montford Park Players.
According to musician Dan Lewis, “there are a lot of amazing people here tonight, but at the core of it all: Deborah Austin. Without her, it wouldn’t have happened.”
So many participants, and so little space in this blog. We recommend that you grab a cool beverage, settle into a comfortable chair, and enjoy the entertaining, first-hand accounts in the video below.
–Post by Ione Whitlock, NC Room Staff