Asheville, North Carolina is a special town with many layers. Built atop the largest white quartz deposit in the state, many believe the city is especially peculiar for it’s eccentric culture, it’s progressive mind, and it’s artistic heart on the edge of the bible belt. In a time when environmental awareness is becoming a norm, and our society is peeking at the margins for trendsetters, places like Asheville are becoming more popular. The touristy appeal relies on sights like the Biltmore Estate, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and historical figures who once came through like writers Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Because of this illustrious historical jackpot, our local leaders seem to forget the locals, the true heart and movement of the city, when divvying up their attention.
The beauty, though, is in this city’s underground, mainly ruled by high school-aged to early 20 year old artists and entrepreneurs. The hashtag #828isgreat came to fruition in an Asheville high school class 5 years ago. Van Arthur and his friends, interested in community organizing fused with art, fashion and music, began creating simple shirts with ‘828’ printed. Then, they begun an instagram page, sharing amateur photography of sights within the beautiful area code. A few years later, the community grew immensely, to serving over 25,000 followers across social media channels, selling shirts, providing artistic collaborations, and most recently, hosting pop-up events around town. We spoke with the young visionaries Van Arthur (21) and Huck Israel (22) all about the 828 community, Asheville, being underground artists and leaders, and goals for the future.
Listen to the podcast and check out the photoshoot & standout quotes from Van below.
On how to get creative ideas:
“You have to look at every single thing and be like, yo there’s something in this bit of reality that I can take and spin and turn into something completely different. That it’s a new form, a completely different creation based off something else you’ve seen from whatever.”
“Use yourself as a window or door to funnel energy, you never want to contain and hold and try to grab and have energy. You just want to be a force where you can tap into different things and put it through you in your own sort of direction and process. Energy doesn’t go away, and it doesn’t create more it’s just all the same thing so you want to move it and push it forward.”
On the beginnings of 828:
“It really started out as a group of friends and it’s basically the same thing nowadays. It’s just way bigger.”
“I wanted to keep this sort of underground energy. The culture that we do have, the really good artistic culture and creative energy that we do have, is very underground because it goes under the cover of tourism and hospitals and hotels and this and that, that really does make money in Asheville. What makes it beautiful, the people and the creativity, is always underground, so I really want to try to maintain that and make it to where it’s something that you do uncover and say, ‘woah, what is this? why is this so popping?’ And once you get into it, it’s basically everything, you just didn’t see it at first. You just gotta look at it at this angle of friendship and connecting. We’re all just walking the same streets so why not just talk about it.”
On titles and the importance of community decisions:
“I don’t ever want it to be a founder or anything. I want it to be a full on community where the decisions are made by whatever the hell they want. So if anyone has an idea they just can do it, and they know they have the brand of 828 behind them. Because they’re locals and they’re good in the community. People always wonder how they can be involved and you just gotta think outside the box, be a little creative, step outside your own barriers, have fun, have a good idea, whatever. That shit will take you places here and places across the world.”
Some words of advice:
“If you don’t think you can do it then you won’t.”
“Work hard but have fun too, and try to figure out how to do both at the same time. If you find that way, do that as much as possible.”
“Realize that if you give up, you’ll start again and you’ll know how to do it better. If you die someone else is born, so like, whatever.”
“Forget that you’re a person. You’re a spiritual being, you’re just trapped in a human vessel for right now. It’s chill and its fun, life is beautiful and the world is beautiful, you just gotta go out there and find it. Really love people, and be yourself.”
Check out 828 on their social channels:
Interview by Christina Geneve
Intro + photographs by Makeda Sandford