By Julia Duvall
For Western Carolina University second-year Master of Fine Art student Jeannie Regan, being chosen as the creative director for the Center for Craft’s newest art installation is an opportunity made possible by faculty and peer support from the MFA program.
“Krafthouse 2023: Forest of the New Trees” is an immersive art installation made for and by the Asheville community that will evolve and change each year in its historic building at 67 Broadway in downtown Asheville. This year’s installation will be open to the public from Sept. 28 to Oct. 13, on Thursdays and Fridays from 5-8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 2-4 p.m. and again from 6-9 p.m.
“The Center for Craft is Asheville’s leading force in craft advocacy and education,” Regan said. “Krafthouse is an event that they've imagined running every year and wanted to consider it as the flip side of what they do during the day in the light and airy upstairs gallery. The installation downstairs will be edgy, contemporary and a little risky.”
Regan, originally from Australia, said the art installation will be an interactive experience that is full of different art installations and guests can explore the space in any way they choose.
“In the spirit of immersive performances and installations like ‘Meow Wolf’ and ‘Burning Man,’ guests and artists will make up their own story and adventure as they go through the installation,” Regan said. “The theme for this year's Krafthouse will be this imaginary post-major event in Appalachia where craft is how we thrive and interact with each other through a night market setting.”
Regan and selected local artists will interpret the theme in their own way. The end result will be the creation of a small, self-sustaining community that has made itself anew. A night market atmosphere will welcome visitors, who will be able to make, gift and trade goods with the artists and each other.
Regan was introduced to Marilyn Zapf, the head curator at the Center for Craft by a graduate of the MFA program, Lex Turnbull, which led to Regan to be selected as the creative director for the project.
“Lex was incredibly generous in making that connection, which I think speaks to the strength of the MFA program at Western,” Regan said. “We are looking out for each other and I am super grateful for the support throughout this process.”
Tom Ashcraft, WCU’s MFA program director and Distinguished Professor of Visual Art, shared that the generous community within the MFA program, which is housed in WCU’s David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts, is vital for its students and alumni to be successful.
“It is really great seeing current MFA students and also graduates out in the field doing the work and then reaching back to help other students within the program,” Ashcraft said. “This speaks to the strength of the program and the quality and expertise they bring to projects like these.”
One of the benefits of the program’s small cohorts is it allows visiting artists to work with the MFA students on a more personal level.
“Tom and the rest of the faculty committee have been amazing about bringing local and international visiting artists to campus,” Regan said. “With our cohorts being smaller than other university programs, these visiting artists get to spend a ton of time with us and that is an incredible luxury we don’t take for granted. We get to know these artists on a personal level and gain additional professional development experience.”
Ashcraft said another highlight of the program is the diversity of the artists admitted.
“We admit a variety of students with backgrounds in areas such as traditional contemporary painting to community-oriented social practice,” Ashcraft said. “We really try to build a cohort that gives students different perspectives and ideas to draw their inspiration from. My job is essentially being a ‘baseball manager;’ you just feel out the talent and think about who would complement the others in the cohort and be a good fit for the program.”
Regan’s journey to the MFA program was a non-traditional one, but turned out better than she could have imagined.
“I did my undergrad a long time ago in Australia and I have been in the states for the past 13 years,” Regan said. “I have an 11-year-old daughter which explains the big gap in education, but Harriet got to a point where I felt like I could take time to work on my MFA and I began researching programs.
Regan first looked at distance programs but felt that was not a good fit and longed for the in-person, collaborative atmosphere she had at her art school in Australia.
“I looked at the program here in Cullowhee and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh the studios are gorgeous, it's not that far from my house and it is a great program,’” Regan said. “I loved that it was a comparatively small university with smaller classes and more one-on-one faculty interactions. I went for a visit and knew it was the right fit for me. Everybody has a ton of space to work, a lot of access to faculty and the fact that faculty have studios on campus that students can stop by anytime; that's not everywhere you go and that's a special thing because you can see them doing their work.”
For more information about the Krafthouse installation and to purchase tickets, visit centerforcraft.org.