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An affordable apartment becomes a home for creativity: Michael’s Journey

Dec 5, 2023 | MHO Journeys, News

Micheal is a ceramicist who lives and works in the River Arts District of Asheville, NC, a former industrial zone that is now a bustling home to dozens of studios, galleries, and hip gathering places for locals and tourists. A veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, Michael discovered his creative side almost by accident. After his military service ended in 1970, Michael took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled in college near his New Jersey home. Still processing his war experience and reconnecting to civilian life, Michael wasn’t drawn to any particular field of study. But he was drawn to people who were learning and practicing the Arts. Michael remembers walking by a classroom and pausing to watch a fellow student throwing and shaping large mounds of clay on a potter’s wheel. This happenstance evoked an epiphany: “It looked like the clay was just growing out of his hands, and that was sort of a magical moment for me,” Michael recalled. “And I said, that’s what I’ll major in…I’ll play with mud.” 

Michael had an almost preternatural ability to work with clay. He was close to graduating, but he felt drawn to strike out and search for a different way to live. He went to Colorado, which would become his home for the next 30 years. Michael spent most of his time camping and hiking in the great outdoors, and it was there that he discovered his deep connection to natural forms. The experience spurred his creative evolution from pottery to sculpture.

Since then, Michael has spent his life as a working artist. He credits his path to being open to discovery. By coincidence, Michael made some critical connections to gallery owners in top art markets, like Santa Fe and New York City, though even now, he admits he struggles with “the business of art,”  specifically promotion and sales. Art provided a way for him to continue to live, express himself, and hone his craft, but it hasn’t always been easy to pay the bills. And in the late 2000s, his chosen home in Colorado was getting increasingly difficult to afford. 

Around this time, dear friends invited Michael to visit them in Asheville. He made his way back East and immediately felt a strong connection to the vibrant art and music scenes here, especially in the River Arts District, also known as the RAD. Michael visited The Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts, a gallery and studio collective for ceramic artists that has anchored the neighborhood since the mid-90s. He also walked past Mountain Housing Opportunities’ Glen Rock Apartments project, which was in the final stage of development. Similar to the serendipity that led to the discovery of his lifelong ceramics passion, Michael had discovered his new home. He was among the first to apply and moved in soon after the Glen Rock apartments building opened in 2010. Michael joined the Odyssey collective to access the space, tools, and community he relies on to create his art. 

Exterior shot of Glen Rock Apartments

MHO’s Glen Rock Apartments was the first affordable housing community to open in the River Arts District in the 21st century. The building features 60 units of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments in the top three floors, while the ground floor houses 9,000 square feet of commercial space. It is also a Gold-Certified LEED property, indicating that the building was designed and constructed to have a more positive impact on the environment and that the building is healthier for residents and neighbors for the long-term. In 2014, MHO opened the Residences at the Glen Rock Hotel, a property that is next door to the Glen Rock Apartments. This adaptive-reuse of the historic Glen Rock hotel is home to 22 1-bedroom apartments and features 13,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Together, MHO’s two Glen Rock communities are home to nearly 100 residents and 13 businesses.

Michael is grateful to live and work sustainably in such a dynamic neighborhood as the RAD, especially as he ages. “I’ve really enjoyed living in the Glen Rock building, and I have the option of walking to my studio every day,” he said. He doesn’t have the physical ability he once had to hike and camp, but the local galleries, restaurants, and greenways keep his social and creative needs fulfilled. Michael loves the many ways to experience life and connect with others just outside his front door. “I like to go out dancing. There’s plenty of music most of the week here in Asheville, and there’s some great restaurants.” He adds that although he deals with chronic pain, “when I go dancing, I never feel any pain.”

While the RAD continues redeveloping and the neighborhood’s popularity grows, Michael doesn’t have to worry about being displaced. The affordable apartments in both of MHO’s Glen Rock buildings ensure that artists, restaurant and hospitality professionals, older adults, and many other diverse residents can continue to live, create, and thrive in the RAD. You can check out Michael’s work in the Odyssey Gallery of Ceramic Arts, and if you see him in the neighborhood, don’t hesitate to say hello!

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