How to Fill Three Floors of a Gallery — and the Shoes of an Asheville Visionary

New Blue Spiral 1 Director Michael Manes will challenge artists and viewers in 2018. Photo by Matt Rose

Michael Manes was born to multitask. Last year, he squeezed two milestones into one month: in May, he was named Gallery Director of Blue Spiral 1. He also got married (he calls his wife Hanna his best friend). Manes started his career at the Columbus Museum of Art, moving on to the exhibitions departments at Akron Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Before turning back to curating, he was artist-in-residence at a private school in Cleveland, teaching grades K-5.

In Asheville, he runs a three-floor venue that stages 25 shows a year. Manes talks about the pressures of steering a legacy gallery in one of the country’s artsiest cities.

What were your first experiences upon arriving at Blue Spiral 1?

When I started working for [founder/owner] John Cram, I was impressed by his entrepreneurship and dedication to the arts in Asheville. I began to learn from him as a mentor, picking his brain on how he [became] a pioneer and visionary for Asheville. It was really through him that I was drawn to gallery work, sales, and management — the business side of art.

What exhibits coming up in 2018 will depart from the usual?

We have a handful of invitationals [featuring] new artists.  … We’re also very excited about launching a designer challenge exhibition, Southern Accents — inviting regional designers to take over our Small Format Gallery. Each will have a two-week period during our exhibition rotation to transform the space any way they like using our artists/works within the gallery. … We want to have a fresh exhibit schedule at the gallery that we plan out one-to-two years in advance, while also taking select artists on the road to various fairs that get international attention. … I don’t want to give away all of our plans and secrets, though.

You work with a team of five. How does it all come together?

We have regular team meetings where we discuss new talents on our radar — ideas for exhibitions with our current roster of artists as well as new ones we would like to bring in for invitational or thematic shows. When it’s time to install the works for a show, we play off each other when deciding relationships and conversations between works. Everyone has a voice [in] making curatorial decisions.

What’s been your greatest sense of accomplishment since arriving at Blue Spiral 1?

This is one of the top galleries in the region, and nationally recognized. I am honored to be a part of it.

And what keeps you up at night?

Running the gallery, especially one of this size, is no easy job. I often wake up with ideas and many “to dos.” We have a lot of ideas for the future, but we have to remember to take each day at a time and not get ahead of ourselves.

Blue Spiral 1, 38 Biltmore Ave., Asheville. For more information, call 828-251-0202 or visit

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