One of only two structures located on the ten-acre Blanhasset Island on the French Broad River in downtown Marshall, Marshall High Studios occupies the former Marshall high school, built in 1925 and nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, more than 3,000 community members signed a petition addressed to Madison County commissioners to save the disused 28,000 square foot structure, which was scheduled for demolition. Ceramicist and developer Rob Pulleyn recognized the potential of the building as an arts facility and began developing a plan for restoration and adaptive reuse. In 2008, Preservation North Carolina awarded Pulleyn the Caraway Award of Merit for his efforts on behalf of Marshall High Studios.
Just twenty-five minutes from Asheville, this vibrant new development now includes twenty-eight artists’ studios ranging in size from 180 to 890 square feet each, in addition to the original school auditorium and stage. Amenities include refurbished original windows and doors, new electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems, and solar powered hot water. All the studios are rented and there is a waiting list. The tenants are all full time working artists.
Future plans to renovate the Blanhasset Island property into a park featuring public art, an amphitheater, pavilion, a kayak put-in and fishing piers demonstrate the contextual sensitivity of this remarkable project. It has not only preserved and revitalized an important community space but also considers and complements its extraordinary natural setting on the French Broad River with views of the mountains and the town of Marshall.
Despite the town’s tiny population — fewer than 1,000 residents — Marshall has emerged as a dynamic example of arts-driven economic development in a small rural town. In recent years, a gallery, cafés, a bookstore, antique store, a private club, new condos, a film set warehouse, artist and design studios, an architecture firm and numerous historic preservation projects including a live/work mill restoration have helped attract artists and craftspeople looking for a quiet alternative to the busier and more bustling arts scenes of Asheville and Charlotte. Marshall High Studios has played an important role in catalyzing the vibrant creative energy of Marshall and in ensuring its position as a leader in small-town arts development in North Carolina.