by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
Asheville is home to many who consider circus and performance art not just a hobby, but a passion, and for some, a career.
Three women in the Runaway Circus, an Asheville-based performance troupe, saw a need for a venue for artists to showcase and practice these passions, and thus spawned their idea: The Toy Boat Community Art Space.
Located in West Asheville, the Toy Boat had its grand opening in July, and since then has been hosting a myriad of events, performances, and rehearsals for different Asheville groups and traveling acts.
“It’s something that Asheville needed,” said Nina Ruffini, one of the three founders of the space. “Unless you’re a band, there’s not many venues that are available to you. We wanted to make this feel like a community space, a place where artist can have access to an affordable space. That’s the idea behind it.”
According to Ruffini, there are several different art groups in the area—a juggling troupe, puppeteers, aerial performers, acrobats, and more.
“Just within our group of seven people, we dance, we’re in bands, we’re in juggling troupes, we knew there was a need just among us,” Ruffini said. “So we figured other people were running into the same problems we were, not being able to find a good space.”
Ruffini and the two other founders, Ingrid Johnson and Sadye Osterloh, offered the Toy Boat as one solution to this dilemma among Asheville’s art community. Groups and individuals become members by paying a monthly fee, and can then have access to the space for rehearsals, performances and other events.
On weekends, the space hosts music performances and other events, while the weekdays are reserved for group rehearsals. When the founders were writing up their business plan, a space became available and the three were urged to take take it over. This space, which used to be called The Garage and was used as a music venue, already had a bar installed, and although the idea of having a bar wasn’t initially in their business plan, they decided to stick with it. During events and performances, it helps pay the bills, according to Ruffini.
“It also creates a wider variety of things that can happen there,” she said. “It’s family-friendly but you can also get a beer.”
Johnson, another founder, attended Warren Wilson several years ago, and during her time here she created the Warren Wilson Circus, which continues today. At the Toy Boat, she and others host circus classes twice a week.
Johnson, Ruffini and Osterloh are three of the seven members of The Runaway Circus, which puts on an annual circus, with over 50 participants. In previous years, most of their time was spent finding a space to put on the circus, but now with the Toy Boat Community Art Space, they finally have a place they can call home.