When the YWCA of Asheville issued a request for proposals to update our lobby as part of a planned Capital Improvement project, we had no idea that we were in store for a complete reimagining of how we tell the story of our organization through the spaces in our building. Jaan Ferree, of Intentional Design, submitted a proposal outlining a design vision that presented the YWCA’s rich legacy through a historical time-line and lobby mural, while updating its furniture and accessories. As Creative Director she brought together a team of local professionals to transform the lobby, a main hallway, an administrative stairwell, and the pool viewing room.
The YWCA has had its 185 S. French Broad Ave location since 1962; it served as the Black YWCA branch from 1962-1967, and then was gradually integrated beginning in 1968. In 1974 a pool and gymnasium were added to the building, and in 2001 the building was renovated and expanded thanks to $3.8 million in donations from more than 800 donors.
“Our building is a huge part of our legacy as an organization and as a community – and several of our spaces needed an update in order to better represent who we are and the pride we feel in our work and in each other,” says Beth Maczka, executive director. “Jaan and her team have truly gone above and beyond our wildest dreams and created a space that is beautiful, inviting, and – most importantly – honors our past and our future.”
Jaan Ferree was generous with her time and talents, spending more than 400 pro bono hours on the project. Other local designers and business that fully or partially donated their time and talent include Jay Fields, Connie Aridas, Ann Baker, Mobilia, Ian Wilkerson, Michael Wray of Creative Cabinetry, Kim Hayes, CEG Electrical, and Blackbird Framing.
“I am grateful to have assembled a ‘Dream Team’ to enliven the interior public spaces of the YWCA,” says Jaan Ferree. “All of the team have given countless hours over and beyond their monetary compensation and about 90 percent of the time toward this redesign was given pro bono. I could not be more pleased with the newly created ‘visual storytelling’ of the YWCA’s strong legacy, and the inspiration and beauty that has been designed to surround the staff and members of the Asheville YWCA.”
Ian Wilkerson of the Asheville Mural Project created a mural for the lobby that was inspired by a 1920s photograph from the YW archives. “I was given a great historic photograph of a special keystone moment in the Asheville YWCA history,” says Ian. “I wanted to combine that moment of those two young women that embodied the spirit of eliminating racism in a time when that was more difficult. The mission of eliminating racism and empowering women is a lesson that we have to refresh with every new generation. Maybe someday we will be born with an innate acceptance of differences. But until then we need to water the flowers of appreciation for our fellow humans. The imagery and symbolism in this mural seemed to flow easily out of this strong foundation.”
Jay Fields worked with research conducted for the YW’s Centennial by Holly Jones, executive director of the YWCA of Asheville from 1996 to 2011, to create a 26’ x 8’ historic timeline on display in a main hallway of the building.
“Once I got into the YW project, I realized I had known a number of women who had helped shape the organization over the years, including Mary Parker, Elspeth Clark and Laurey Masterton,” says Jay. “Soon enough I discovered that the combined Asheville YW had been a driving force in race relations and integration in the civil rights era – an innovative and courageous national leader. This realization energized and fueled the effort, and my colleague and friend Connie Aridas, through her design, brought some wonderful theater to the project. Because of the heart and soul of everything that’s gone into this organization’s history, the exhibit easily took on a wonderful kind of grateful and celebratory presence. It speaks to the many, many women who have ‘gone before us’ in making Asheville a remarkable place to call home.”
All are welcome to join the YWCA in celebrating Our Big Reveal on October 17 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., with a brief program at 9 a.m. We always welcome community visitors to our building for a tour of our mission and programs.