The Mob Before the Mob

Downtown gallery celebrates ten years of building a scene

How Michele Sparks made Art Mob.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

“Like a kid in a candy store” accurately describes Michele Sparks’ childhood — but instead of chocolate bars and taffy, she was surrounded by paints, colored pencils, and sketch pads. “My father was an artist, so I’ve always been around art, and when I was 12, he opened an art-supply store and hobby house,” she says. “I would go in and ‘work,’ but really, he just let me play with all the products, and I became an artist myself.”

As a young adult, she was sidetracked to a management job with J. Crew, which brought her to Asheville to work in their distribution center. While surrounded by khakis and crew necks, she still dreamed of opening her own art-related business. “I always had a five-year plan, and then five years would go by, and I’d restart that plan.”

Photo by Rachel Pressley

She did that for nearly two decades until the company downsized, and, as the most senior person on staff, she saw the writing on the wall — and pulled out her plan again.

“I sent out résumés to other companies in my field, and I started looking around Hendersonville for a building. Whichever God sent me first, I was going to do.”

But before she received a call back from any potential employers, she called a real-estate agent, who directed her to a former restaurant on 4th Avenue East. “I walked into a big open room, and I was in love,” she recalls. “I literally danced around the floor. I knew that was it, and I knew I would do it.”

Photo by Rachel Pressley

She took possession of the 4,800-square-foot space in June 2012, and after an extensive buildout, opened the doors to Art MoB Studios & Marketplace on Labor Day weekend. On May 20, Sparks is throwing a (slightly belated) 10-year anniversary party to celebrate the business milestone, her artists, and the now-thriving art scene in Hendersonville.

“I opened with 25 artists in all that space,” she says with a laugh. “When I look back at those photos, I can see how proud and happy I am. And how far I’ve come. Now, Art MoB has five working studios and represents over 90 artists.”

Sparks says she knew that to really succeed, she couldn’t make her venue the only game in town: She needed other galleries to open, too. So she worked with the Art League of Henderson County to help implement community programming, exhibits, and other gathering spaces. “Now there are about 10 galleries [in the downtown area], and we are an art destination for people from all over,” says Sparks.

But many locals go to Art MoB first for personal purchases and gifts. “We are a juried gallery, but we have all kinds of mediums, all kinds of artists, at all kinds of price points,” Sparks notes. “I have artists who have been with me for ten years, and artists just starting out. 

“Everyone should have art in their world. It is so fun to come to ‘work’ every day.” 

Art MoB Studios & Marketplace (124 4th Ave. East, Hendersonville) celebrates 10 years on Saturday, May 20 with demonstrations and special promotions; from 4-7pm there will be live music, champagne and cake. A silent auction of work by represented artists will close that day. 

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