5/20/2011 - Paint the town purple: LaZoom tour explores Asheville's art scene
by Carol Motsinger
One of the more unique and enjoyable local businesses here in Asheville, LaZoom Tours are always fun, always interesting, and always affordable! Packed purple - yes, purple - buses move around the city all day long, and offer an inexpensive and entertaining way to learn more about Asheville, while having a great time the whole ride through.
ASHEVILLE -- For Jen Lauzon, there isn't a tour big enough, diverse enough to really give Asheville's visitors a complete experience of the city.
"I do feel like when people do come here, they are trying to figure out, to experience what makes Asheville a special place," said Lauzon, who own the LaZoom Bus Tour company with her husband, Jim. "I feel that part of the issue is that Asheville itself has a real image that isn't summed up easily in a nutshell."
Asheville's burgeoning The River Arts District certainly doesn't sum up the city, Lauzon said, but its diversity -- and the fact that each artist housed in myriad studios is unique -- does make it a great reflection of Asheville, she said.
That's one reason why LaZoom, known for its quirky, humorous take on sightseeing, is adding an art tour exploring the River Arts District and West Asheville. The tour will debut at 11 a.m. Saturday and run every Saturday after that. Tickets are usually $35, but for May and June, it will cost $28 per ticket, $15 for children.
Gabriel Schaffer, an Asheville folk artist, was inspired to approach the folks at LaZoom about this idea after he noticed so many visitors were interested in art and wanted to visit this community but found the former warehouse district hard to navigate.
"Asheville's got such a wide scale of artists here," he said. "I wanted to make some kind of tour that would show people the different levels of this and get a one-on-one history of this place and how we got to where we are today."
Shaffer hosted a practice run of the tour earlier this month, which focused on the Curve Studios in the River Arts District, as well as the studios in the Meadows Building on Haywood Road.
Mixed in with facts about Asheville's art history, such as how George Vanderbilt stimulated the craft community by hiring so many local artisans for the Biltmore House construction, is balanced with hands-on demonstrations and discussions with artists on the tour.
"There are so many artists that I want to feature," Schaffer said. "I am rotating (the artists) every other week," noting that the Wedge studios will be the centerpiece of Saturday's excursion.
He wants to showcase everything that Asheville has to offer, from traditional crafting to the more "contemporary, underground" work of such artists as Dustin Spagnola, a painter heavily influenced by street art who is housed in the Meadows Building.
"That's my goal," he said. "As the tour evolves, I really want to show the various spaces and styles. I want for (visitors) to say that Asheville is a really great city for all different kinds of arts."
Andy Herod, an artist and musician working out of the Meadows Building, said that he's already directly benefited from the tour: The practice run yielded enough sales to pay for one-third of his rent.
"The tour itself is high-quality," Herod said of his reasons for participating. "(Schaffer's) is really including a broad range of art. A lot of Asheville art is craft-oriented, and he is bringing the tours to artist's studios that might create work that is a little left of center and challenging to people."
He also appreciates that the tour, which promises 30-40 people walking through his studio twice a month, forces him to ensure he keeps working, that he has fresh art for every potential customer who comes to him by way of the purple bus.
Schaffer is using LaZoom's iconic purple bus, but don't expect to see a man dressed as nun following close behind on a giant (another LaZoom character). The art tour demonstrates the same sense of playfulness, however, just with Shaffer's own spin.
"We have live musicians on the tour and that's one aspect of things that I think are similar to the other LaZoom tours," he said. "I do my best to try to give people information to that is not lame or boring," he said. "I don't want to put anybody to sleep."