For years, there have been random dots on the map of Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood that represent diverse examples of the city’s phenomenal mural art. An organized showcase tour of that art was hidden in plain sight, just waiting to be cohesively created through a combination of public marketing and alert vision.
“I think there’s been a desire in the South Slope neighborhood to pump it up and give it more love and attention,” explains artist and gallery owner Zander Stefani, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. “I think the creators of the trail said, ‘We have the resources, so let’s put a list together.’ They organized it to give people an adventure.”
Now the dots on the map are conveniently connected into an official, newly revealed excursion, the South Slope Mural Trail. Similar to the Urban Trail, the grandaddy of downtown’s walk-arounds, the South Slope Mural Trail is a self-guided tour — and several of Stefani’s colorfully bold, rather psychedelic murals are included. Follow it by car, on foot, by bike, or skateboard to discover at least 17 artistic gems.
Speaking of connecting the dots, artist Caren Frost Olmsted, who created the mural “100 Years,” is related to the late Frederick Law Olmsted. (He designed New York’s Central Park before coming to Asheville around 1895 to contribute his talents to the splendid Biltmore Estate landscape.) Her mural reflects that horse-and-buggy era and was inspired by an early-20th-century photograph of Swannanoa Cleaners laundry delivery men. Celebrated muralists Dustin Spagnola and Ishmael are represented, among other noted artists.
The trail, which winds around for approximately two miles, came to fruition thanks to collaboration between local makers, the Asheville Downtown Association Foundation, the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the South Slope Neighborhood Association.
“I think it might make people want to put more murals up around here,” notes Stefani. Lara Nguyen, who created the “Bower Power” mural showcased at 207 Coxe Avenue (and calls mural painting “the extreme sport” of art making), agrees. “My phone is ringing off the hook about murals,” says the co-owner of Stone Cloud Studio, who has taught art at Warren Wilson College for a decade. “The idea of art for everyone to see and enjoy is important for sparking the imagination,” says Nguyen. “The rise in popularity of public art may be a reflection of our ideals and hopes on the wall — instead of blankness.”
In pursuit of that goal, Nguyen designed and runs a project at Warren Wilson called Service Learning Mural Painting. The initiative, which allows students to work outside the classroom in an art context, promotes art, volunteerism, and community interaction — as it creates more murals while engaging kids as young as second graders.
“Public art,” says Nguyen, “is about equity.”
The South Slope in downtown Asheville is bounded by Asheland, Biltmore, Southside, and Hilliard avenues. Coxe Avenue is a good starting point for viewing the murals. For more information about the South Slope Mural Trail, including an interactive map, visit the Explore Asheville website: exploreasheville.com/south-slope-mural-trail.