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A Brief History

The Upstairs Gallery, now Upstairs Artspace, was founded in 1978 by Craig Pleasants, a young artist who saw the need in the western Carolinas for a non-profit institution committed to the contemporary arts. The first exhibits were presented in the upstairs bedrooms of Craig’s modest home in Tryon. From the outset, the Upstairs had a reputation of showing art that was experimental, challenging and sometimes “far out”- but always of the highest caliber. Critical acclaim came quickly to the Upstairs with both emerging and established artists seeking the opportunity to exhibit there.


The Arts Journal wrote of The Upstairs in 1978: “What makes the gallery particularly exciting is the risk involved—the risk taken by the individual artists exploring new forms, and especially the risk involved in exhibiting work new to this area.


In 1981 the Asheville Citizen said, “The avant-garde has found a new a home in Tryon’s The Upstairs.”


Between 1980 and 1986 the Upstairs was located in two different Upstairs commercial locations in Tryon. In 1987 when the gallery moved into the ground floor of the Town Hall Office Building complex, the name of the gallery was retained because it was widely recognized as the region’s premier gallery for contemporary art.

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In 2000, an anonymous patron bought a two-and-a-half story building in downtown Tryon to house the Upstairs Artspace. A renovation of the building was undertaken at a cost of $550,000. To be raised by individuals, foundations, and other philanthropic organizations in an ongoing capital campaign. Opened in April 2004, the current facility boasts about 3000 square feet of exhibition space and a flexible floor plan for the art-related programs for which the Upstairs is well known. There is a gallery on the street-level floor and another on the second floor below.


On Aug. 28, 2021, after a Saturday night reception, hot water pipes broke and water flooded the gallery. The damage was not discovered until the following Monday. Nearly $200,000 worth of damage was done, causing the gallery to shut down for repairs. After almost a year of restorations, the Gallery reopened on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, with a Grand Opening community celebration, attracting more than 200 people. It reopened with the same exhibitions that were in the Gallery at the time of the flood, giving the artists a full seven-week exhibition.


The Upstairs Artspace offers programs as stimulating and diverse as art itself.  Some of the programs are:


• Regular exhibitions of fine art, including painting, sculpture, photography, prints, installation art and film and video art.

• Selective exhibitions of contemporary craft ranging from glass and ceramics to wood-turned objects and fiber art.

• Selective exhibitions of contemporary craft ranging from glass and ceramics to wood-turned objects and fiber art.

• Art education encompassing lectures, workshops, gallery tours and field trips.

• Gallery art tours for children in the elementary schools.

• Fund-raising events such as auctions, 100 X 100, holiday programs and Art Trek Foothills Open Studios Tours.

Last updated Oct. 4, 2022

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