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Towns for art lovers

Many famous art-lovers have found inspiration for their collections while traveling. With the wide range of arts booming in cities all across the country, the next great art collector might be you.

You can find artwork in just about any place your group visits these days. And yet there are some destinations that seem to overflow with creative energy, where thriving communities of artists have come together to open galleries and overtake neighborhoods with color. Many of those destinations also come with a scenic beauty or small-town charm that makes them an ideal stop for group travel.

So be sure to leave room in your suitcase — you may come home from those gallery towns with artwork in tow.

Asheville, North Carolina

The scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a heritage of Native American crafts and a fiercely independent spirit have made Asheville one of the most famous arts enclaves of the eastern United States. Groups that visit the city will find numerous ways to enjoy the arts there.

“Our River Arts District has really blossomed over the past few years,” said Janelle Troglione, tourism sales manager at the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s home to 165 artists who work in turn-of-the-century industrial buildings.”

Groups can take guided tours of the River Arts District, where they’ll see sculpture, pottery, metalwork, traditional Appalachian crafts and other art. The CVB can also arrange demonstrations or interactive artmaking experiences with the artists there.

There’s more art to be found in downtown Asheville, where 30 galleries are mixed in with the independent retail and local restaurants that make up the city center. Group leaders can turn their travelers loose to explore the galleries and shops in the area, or pay a visit to an old Woolworth lunch counter that has been converted into an arts market.

To learn more about the arts and craft traditions of the area, groups can take a short drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Folk Art Center.

“The center showcases art from nine Southern states,” Troglione said. “The art is for sale. Most days they also have ongoing craft demonstrations. You could see someone tying scarves or turning wood to make an Appalachian-style broom.”

Bellingham, Washington

Situated on the Pacific coast between Seattle and Vancouver, the small town of Bellingham, Washington, has a growing arts and gallery culture.

“The most exciting development in Bellingham’s downtown has been the solidification of the downtown Cultural Arts District,” said Loni Rahm, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. “There were lots of galleries, museums and cultural centers spread out throughout downtown. But by accident or by design, a part of downtown has now become the core of our arts scene.”

Much of the organization has been spearheaded by Bellingham’s Allied Arts Association, a group of local artists who work to encourage artistic development in the community. The association’s gallery is one of several that groups can tour during a visit to Bellingham.

“When you go to the Allied Arts Gallery, you have historic, scenic and environmental art,” Rahm said. “The things that they do in their gallery are reflective of the diverse group of artists in the community.”

In addition to the Allied Arts Gallery, visitors can take time to browse individual artist galleries in the Cultural Arts District. Highlights include CedarWorks, a gallery that showcases art from the tradition of the Lummi Native Americans, and Make.Shift, a “do it yourself” gallery and music venue that hosts exhibits from different local artists every month.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.