Upstairs Artspace is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization 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.
Upstairs Artspace is supported in part by the generosity of the Polk County Community Foundation and the NC Arts Council.
The Upstairs Gallery, now Upstairs Artspace, began in 1977 with gatherings in Craig Pleasants' Tryon residence. As an artist he saw the need in Western North Carolina for a non-profit institution committed to the contemporary arts. The first exhibits were presented in 1978, and the Gallery was officially incorporated October 4, 1979.
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.
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, raised by individuals, foundations, and other philanthropic organizations in an ongoing capital campaign.
Opened in April 2004, the current facility boasts about 3,000 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.