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Frequently Asked Questions – Haywood Street Fresco

What is fresco?

Fresco is best known as the medium used by Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel . The technique involves mixing sand and lime, placing the mix on a wall and painting it while it is still wet. It is a challenging technique that requires patience and careful timing. The painter must work on only one small section of wall at a time, making sure that it has just the right amount of moisture. If the wall is too wet it will not accept the pigment. If it is too dry, the pigment will powder off after it dries. When successful, the colors are absorbed by the wet plaster and the pigment is bound into the wall; it is the wall; it and the wall are the same.

Are there other frescoes in North Carolina?

Yes, American artist Ben Long, after more than a decade in Europe studying and mastering the fresco technique, returned to North Carolina in the 1970’s and produced two frescoes in rural Ashe County.  He continued painting and training others in the technique — including Asheville artist Christpher Holt — and now more than a dozen Ben Long frescoes adorn walls and ceilings across the state.  

What does art have to do with homeless ministry?

While we do offer services that help address the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, there is a deeper purpose to the Haywood Street ministries that has to more to do with human relationships than anything else. We follow a God who abandoned heaven to take up residence as a homeless man on earth, one who sought relationship with individuals that others dismissed as not worthy of redemption. We recognize that even today we can encounter God among us through these same relationships.

The life-sized mural at Haywood Street will forever offer the message that God continues to show up in everyday life among the unhoused and the housed, the poor and poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, and the hungry.  The painting will serve as a reminder that those seeking peace shall find it in human relationships, where God dwells among us.

And, as with all works of art, there is no one single meaning. The Haywood Street Fresco will allow visitors to derive meaning from the fresco that connects with their own experience. Perhaps it will prompt personal introspection or spark new insights about community.

Why is this project being funded by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority?

The Haywood Street Fresco has the potential to elevate the profile of arts tourism in Asheville. Fresco is a unique and relatively rare art form, one that connects easily for most people to great masterpieces such as the Sistine Chapel. As an inherently long-lasting art form, the Haywood Street Fresco promises a long-term benefit to tourism in Asheville. Its scale, scope and permanence will make it suitable for inclusion with the Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore Estate in discussions regarding local treasures that Asheville has to offer to current and future generations of visitors.

The experience of other regional frescoes offers evidence of this project’s potential value to the tourism economy in Asheville. In Ashe County, where three Ben Long frescoes are located in two Episcopal churches, many old homes have been converted into bed-and-breakfasts to accommodate the thousands of people who visit each year from all across the country.

Because this project promises a unique and engaging experience for visitors, it aligns with the goals of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and was deemed eligible for a grant from the Tourism Product Development Fund.  [Note: A legal challenge by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been initiated and the grant is currently under review. Final determination will be shared here when available.]

With a $150,000 price tag, isn’t this project a little extravagant?

Yes. And, we embrace abundance at Haywood Street because we believe it honors the truth of how God intends the world to be. In God’s economy, there is always enough. The stories shared by Jesus invite us to understand God’s grace as extravagant, wasteful even. A farmer recklessly scatters seeds on rocky ground. A shepherd abandons the flock to rescue one lost lamb. A Good Samaritan pays the bill for an enemy’s care.

We adopt a mindset of abundance at Haywood Street to reflect our understanding of God’s unlimited grace.  It’s a gesture of love that’s unconditional, an attempt to overwhelm with more than just enough. It runs counter to the world’s values. In keeping with this mindset, it feels right that a church for those valued least by the world should have the most beautiful sanctuary in town.

Funds to support this project will not come from Haywood Street’s operating budget. Funding will strictly come from gifts designated for this particular purpose,

Wouldn’t the money be better spent on food and shelter for folks in need?

Our core programs provide food, clothing and medical respite care for individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk. Our commitment to those programs has not changed. We believe the fresco, once complete, can actually help generate funds to support existing Haywood Street ministries and programs. This has been the experience of other frescoes in North Carolina.

Why fresco?

According to the artist, “It has been my experience that the real beauty of fresco other than its aesthetic quality is in the community that it brings together.”  It is a process that requires a team of assistants and volunteers as well as models who are used to depict characters in the composition. There are those who come to simply watch the painting unfold, The process creates a shared atmosphere of excitement as life is breathed into the wall. This creative process aligns well with Haywood Street’s desire to build relationships and unite the community.

And, permanence is a quality of the medium that has special significance for the context in which it is being created. To be homeless is to feel invisible. Busy with schedules and head-down routines, working professionals pass right by on city sidewalks. Folks look the other way to avoid the uncomfortable decision about whether or not to pass a dollar out the window off the highway ramp. The Haywood Street Fresco will offer Asheville’s invisible residents an opportunity to be seen, really seen, in a work of art that will outlast most of us. Fresco is enduring. The painting will be here as long as the building is still standing.

Will increased tourist traffic compromise the ministry at Haywood Street?

Never intending to be a resource only for the disadvantaged, our highest calling has always been to relationship. Our hope is to be a crossroads of diverse community, a place where unlikely friendships can form and grow. The fresco opens a new pathway for this pursuit.

We anticipate that many people will be interested in viewing the fresco. Our plan for managing the flow of traffic includes a hired docent to work weekends, greeting visitors and  sharing information about the fresco. Tools to facilitate the visitor experience will be developed, including video and photo displays documenting the production process and the meaning behind the fresco. On Wednesdays and Sundays, when many people visit the Haywood Street campus to attend worship or participate with the core programs, hosted information sessions will be offered by Haywood Street companions.

What are the “Beatitudes”?

The Haywood Street Fresco will be based on the scripture known as “The Beatitudes.” The Beatitudes are the eight declarations of blessedness spoken by Jesus at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, each beginning with “Blessed are….” The Greek word “Beatitudes” translated “blessed” means “happy, blissful” or, literally, “to be enlarged.”

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-12)

This scripture reminds us of God’s heightened concern for the poor and a value system that says the last shall be first.  It is this value system and understanding of gospel truth that informs the Haywood Street ministries. Not only will the last be first at Haywood Street, they will feast at the banquet table surrounded by loving family.

When will the fresco be finished?

Once we get started, creating the fresco is a year-long process. The first six months will be spent preparing the wall and sketching in detail each section of the fresco. The nature of fresco painting means that the artist must have the total composition conceived in detail before working on any part of it. Preliminary sketches in full scale (called Cartoons) must be prepared. A “scratch coat” must be applied and allowed to dry. When the sketches are complete and scratch coat has dried, the plaster and painting process will begin. The painter plasters just as much of the wall as he expects to be able to paint in one day. The next day he must chip away any unpainted dried plaster and lay on a fresh area next to the finished work. This phase takes several months. Our hope is for the project to begin in early 2018 and be completed by year-end.

How big will the finished fresco at Haywood Street be?

The finished work will be 28.5 ft wide by 11 ft. tall and will cover the entire central wall of our sanctuary located at 297 Haywood Street, Asheville NC 28801.

How can I get involved with this project?

Send us an email to haywoodstreet@haywoodstreet.org stating your desire to get involved with the fresco, and you will be contacted by someone from the Fresco Steering Committee, a group dedicated to turning the vision for the Haywood Street Fresco into reality.

Are you accepting financial contributions?

Yes. You may donate online using the button below, or mail a contribution to PO Box 2982, Asheville NC 28802.  Make your check payable to Haywood Street Congregation and write “Fresco” in the memo line.  

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