The Upstairs Artspace launches its 2015 exhibition season on Jan. 31 with The Nina Simone Project: Celebrating Black History Month and Tryon’s High Priestess of Soul. The project was made possible through a grant from the Polk County Community Foundation’s Community Matters free-event program. The public is invited to an opening reception on the 31st, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and a free jazz concert on Feb. 21, Nina Simone’s birthday, at Roseland Community Center in Tryon, featuring the MPP Band.

Asheville artist Valeria Watson Doost explores the impact that Simone -- artist, civil rights activist, and Tryon’s most famous daughter -- had on her community with an installation reimagining the interior of the Tryon home where the jazz giant grew up. Watson calls the work “Reparations for Nina,” saying she wants to repay a debt she, as a female artist, owes to Simone, and hopes it will be a bridge to reconciliation after the controversies that have surrounded Simone’s life and work.

“Home is where I am giving Nina the gift of reparations, for her disappointments and her grief,” Watson Doost said, “and to Tryon for its disappointments and resentments, that all may come together in peace, justice, joy, abundance, and progress.”

Charleston artist Leigh Magar also celebrates Simone’s legacy with a display of headdresses and accessories inspired by Simone. Her exhibit, Madame Magar: The Mood Indigo Collection, features turbans and other items created using sewing remnants from indigo-dyed dresses and hats “to capture the aura of Nina's one-of-a-kind, strength and style,” Magar said. The artist also will perform a Nina Simone birthday dance to Nina Simone songs on Feb. 21, the late musician’s birthday.

The Upstairs is thrilled to include the exhibit Sights Unforeseen by Asheville artist Linda Larsen. Her exhibit contains two bodies of work – paintings contemplating slavery and the Middle Passage, and a series of hauntingly beautiful sculptures exploring the American prison system and the disproportionately large population of black inmates. Larsen says that, as a white painter, she was uncomfortable addressing aspects of the African-American experience, but she hopes her work will open a conversation about race.

The opening reception will occur on the same night as another Black History Month event – the opening reception for the Tryon Fine Arts Center’s exhibit on the Tryon All Stars, the semi-pro baseball team that played at Ziglar Field from 1946 to 1968.

Simone’s birthday, February 21st will feature two fun events: Madame Magar will dance at the gallery in her honor and later that evening the MPP band, featuring William Hannon, Valentino Burroughs, Marquis Forney, and the vocal talents of Angela Counts-Logan will perform at the Roseland Community Center, 56 Peake St., Tryon. There also will be a Feb. 26 panel discussion on Nina Simone’s legacy in her hometown. The talk will feature Dr. Joseph Fox of Warren Wilson College; Dr. Warren Carson, Interim Vice Chancellor of the USC Upstate Spartanburg branch; and Frances Fox, Nina Simone’s sister.

The celebration also will include an African Wrapped Dolls workshop with artist Valeria Watson on March 6, and Cooking with Soul with Chef Hanan Shabazz and Chef Brit Castaneda on March 7. Updates and details on the schedule of events will be released in coming weeks.
Admission to all of the events is free, thanks to the PCCF Community Matters grant.

The Upstairs Artspace is a non-profit art gallery whose mission is to develop an understanding and appreciation of contemporary art and craft forms through exhibits, programs and educational activities that enrich the cultural life of the region. Its mission is supported by a grant from the Polk County Community Foundation. The gallery also receives funding from the North Carolina Council of the Arts and UA members. The Upstairs is located at 49 South Trade Street, Tryon. For additional information: 828/859-2828, or visit the gallery’s website at