The Asheville Darkroom
Address: 109 Roberts Street, Suite 2A
Contact: Bridget Conn
Open Hours: Tuesdays 4-6pm and by appointment
How is the project operated?
As of July 2014, we are a non-profit art educational facility.
How long has it been in existence?
In one form or another, since November of 2009. We began as a collective of analog-based photographic artists, opened the studio to the public in April 2010, returned to a private collective in August 2011, and finally became a business seeking our 501c3 in June 2012.
What was your motivation?
I [Bridget Conn] joined the collective seeking instructor opportunities when I moved to Asheville in 2009, and became the director in June 2012. At that time, my goals expanded from simply teaching to creating a space in which our region can both learn about photographic processes as an art form, and meet others who treat it as such. In July 2013 my then Co-Director and I opened Silverspace, a small gallery/project room dedicated to showing analog photographic artworks/photographic mixed media and installation. It began as a space for our members to exhibit, but we have since shown artists from around the country. Silverspace is located on the Roberts Street level of the Phil Mechanic Studios building.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
I am the Director of the darkroom, with a volunteer staff of four people. For Silverspace, I am the Curator, though my former Co-Director Jason Clements was responsible for the concept of the space with me in 2013.
How are programs funded?
Working Members who use the darkroom facilities fund a large part of our projects. We also offer tax-deductible Supporting Memberships for those wishing to make a financial contribution to help secure our future. A portion of all classes and workshops also provides for our expenses. We are beginning to seek grant funding for a possible upcoming expansion of the darkroom space.
Who is responsible for the programming?
I am the primary instructor, though we encourage the community to propose classes and workshops that they can teach as well – we are definitely seeking more instructors at this time. Amelia Smith and Jason Scott Furr handle the analog color side of the facilities as well as that aspect of education. I am the Curator of Silverspace.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
We offer 1-3 classes per month, and usually about 2 workshops per month. We have a critique group which meets the last week of each month, which is free and open to the public for those who want feedback on their work in this photographic context. We host Silverspace shows six times a year, with a reception for each exhibition. Other private classes with individuals or groups of younger students are also hosted as our community requests them.
What kind of events are usually organized?
Most are listed above, though with a possible expansion, we hope to reach our goal of offering more lectures, screenings, other social events, and possibly an artist-in-residence project (which many people have asked us about over the years). We have also worked with organizations that serve children/young adults with developmental or behavioral issues to provide private lessons that may engage these individual in ways that other programming may not.
How is your programming determined?
I am primarily responsible for the programming as the director, but I am open to anyone wanting to collaborate and head up any new photographic-based offerings for the community. I want the Asheville Darkroom to be not only a place for students to learn, but for photographic educators to contribute to the identity of the space as a photographic arts center. We are also contacted by local school groups and other organizations that serve young people to create specific learning opportunities.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
We do accept proposals for Silverspace. Proposal guidelines are on our website. At this time we have Silverspace programming booked through February of 2016, but are interested in future exhibitions.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
Silverspace was established for our Working and Supporting Members to be able to propose exhibitions, but we welcome anyone who wants to make a proposal (we ask that they become a Supporting Member of the darkroom to do so). The goal of Silverspace is to exhibit silver gelatin prints, c-prints, alternative process work, photo-based mixed media, and experimental 2D photo-based installation. This decision does not mean I do not believe digital prints to be an art form, rather my goal is to create an exhibition space specifically for the promotion of the above-listed media. My reasoning lies in the perceptions of patrons of the River Arts District (where we are located) – that most believe darkrooms to be dead and photography to have little use beyond a commercial tool. I want to educate, through these media, that photography can be an object-based art form dealing with process and/or concept.
What’s working? What’s not working?
Silverspace shows have been successful – we have very few venues in Asheville that treat photography in the way we view it, and I am proud to host one of such spaces. Obviously we would like to expand Silverspace beyond its very small size and location. As the future of the Phil Mechanic Studios unfolds, we may be able to do this. Classes and workshops are going very well. What I would like to see change is that more photographic educators become involved and want to shape what this space can become as not just a darkroom, but a full photographic arts center. Outside funding has been difficult, but as our annual budget grows we should be able to qualify for more grants that would support an expansion and/or sustain us into the future.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
I hope the darkroom stands out as a place where people can learn about and view photography in a way that isn’t simply a means of capturing “pretty pictures” – so often people come to Asheville and they just want scenes of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photography can capture such things, but it holds so much more potential as an art form. In addition to appealing further to regional artists, we want to expand our programming to children/young adults who find that making art in the darkroom works for them in terms of therapy or release.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
The first idea is an expansion of our space so that we are not just one large room, but have separate spaces for a classroom, a film room, a BW darkroom and a color darkroom. This will greatly increase our Working Members’ productivity as multiple activities will be able to happen at once. As a result we will also be able to host larger events and gatherings in our classroom. I also want to see Silverspace expand and become a larger focus of our programming, so that we may be able to offer workshops, lectures, or artist talks based on the exhibitions. Finally I look forward to partnering with more organizations in our region to create alternative educational opportunities. We have worked with troubled teens, young adults with substance abuse problems, and individuals with mental health challenges – many of which have found the darkroom to be a valuable tool for their recovery, and I want to increase our role in that arena.
Images courtesy of Asheville Darkroom.