A PUBLIC ART BOON(E)
Every time someone mentions Appalachian State University, I hear this song in my head.
When I first saw this promo, I was vacationing in Nova Scotia with a friend who was poking around on the interweb. He stumbled on the video and summoned me to his laptop.
“You’re not gonna believe this,” he said.
Who knows how many times we watched it? We couldn’t stop. This is the motherlode of all earworms.
My Nova Scotia friend and I still use “Hot, hot, hot” as shorthand for Appalachian State.
“Where’s so-and-so’s kid going to college?”
“Hot, hot, hot.”
Since 2005, the mention of Appalachian – or even Boone – conjures up that so-bad-it’s-catchy jingle.
But on a recent trip to the home of the Mountaineers, I found myself thinking Boone actually was pretty hot. The art scene is. Art is everywhere downtown. Of course, so is Appalachian’s campus, and it’s the big reason there’s so much art. The school and the town are inextricably linked.
This is the fourth installment of a new exploration series sponsored by OrthoCarolina, that encourages everyone to go for walks to discover creative communities across the Charlotte region. OrthoCarolina has offices in Boone, Charlotte and cities across the North Carolina piedmont.
** “Yosef” is the name of the Appalachian State mascot.
The 36 Steps
If you’re in town, you can’t miss the steps. And if somehow, you do, just ask someone to point you to the painted steps. They’ll know.
The 36-step staircase, painted to look as if it’s covered in a colorful, geometric rug, was unveiled last August and has already become iconic. It was created by Baltimore-based artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn – who have developed a distinctive and sought-after style.
[Psst. You don’t have to drive to Boone to see a Jessie and Katey work. The 3.5-mile paved Rail Trail that runs along the Blue Line from South End to Uptown has its own “magic carpet.”]
In Boone, The staircase is part of an arts corridor that links two halves of campus and creates a series of visual landmarks.
The corridor ends (or begins, depending on your perspective) at ASU’s Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. Located on King Street – one of downtown’s main drags – the center occupies the spot where Boone United Methodist Church once stood. It’s, as the website proudly proclaims, “the largest visual arts center in northwestern North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.”
Admission is always free, and there’s a series of rotating exhibitions. The day I was there, student docents were on hand with insights into the artists and their work. Plus, there’s an Art-O-Mat in the lobby with quirky, whimsical handmade work, each one the size of a pack of cigarettes and available with a $5 token.
I’ve made a vow to myself to buy art from every Art-O-Mat I encounter. (An Art-O-Mat is a retired cigarette machine that dispenses tiny, original works of art rather than cigarettes.) One of my best scores was a pewter Saltine cracker by the artist Herbert Hoover. People used to share photos of their inedible works of art on Hoover’s “cracker tracker.”
Anyway, you’d be hard-pressed to find original art for less than $5.
There’s an Art-O-Mat knockoff a couple of blocks down King St. (I’m not knocking the knockoff. I applaud any effort to get original art into the hands of people, and if it also keeps an old cigarette machine out of a landfill, even better.) This is the Curio art machine in front of the King Street Art Collective – another artsy place with rotating exhibits that’s worth a visit.
This vending machine that vends art also carries tiny books (everything has to be the size of a pack of cigs or smaller), stickers and other goodies.
Life-size (or, in some cases, larger-than-life) statues of famous people connected to Boone – like Daniel Boone, Doc Watson and Yosef himself are Instagrammable moments just waiting to happen.
My favorite find in Boone – also on King St. – is Common Good Company. Their mission statement has a sentence that reads: “To consciously curate a retail space for intentional consumerism.” This place is the antidote to Walmart.
I could’ve spent hours in this airy, three-story cathedral to art and craft. The first floor contains ceramics, fiber arts, candles, leather goods, candles, plants and planters. All are handmade; some are made locally.
On Saturdays, they even sell fresh flower bouquets (while they last) and baked goods. It’s like a mini-farmers market inside a store. Brilliant.
The upper two levels are given over to fine art. I was happy to see a favorite artist, Rachael Van Dyke, whose work I discovered at Greenville, South Carolina’s Art & Light Gallery, on view here.
Music, dance and more
ASU has also given Boone a beautiful performing arts venue. The Schaefer Center brings national acts – singers, dance companies, theater – to the North Carolina mountains. There’s a year-round calendar of worthy events. Find one that suits your tastes here.
Keep On Exploring
That “Hot! Hot! Hot! promotional jingle/PowerPoint video may not be your cup of tea. But it’s not wrong. Appalachian – and the art scene around it – are scorching.
Did We Miss One of Your Favorites?
If you have a favorite creative location in Boone that we didn’t include in this story, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a description and a photo! We’ll add it to the story as a reader suggestion.
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