The Toe River Valley

Destination Art

The Toe River Valley is one of the most memorable areas in the country. Meandering streams and rivers, impressive mountains, and inviting valleys make Mitchell and Yancey Counties a region of unparalleled beauty. In the summer, the rhododendron infuse the green hills with brilliant pinks and magenta. In winter, the air is so crisp it snaps, and snows quiet the landscape. Add into this diverse mix the number of trails (hiking, biking, heritage, quilt and on and on) and the over 400 artists who call this area home, and the Valley becomes a destination for visitors year round.
For over the past three years, TRAC and 18 other community organizations and local government agencies have met to work on the idea of branding the two county region for its cultural assets. Success would improve the quality of life, encourage creative activity, foster strong community identity and sense of place, and revitalize economic development.

Through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Economic Development Agency, Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation, The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, and John & Robyn Horn Foundation, the Toe River Arts Council, in collaboration with its partners, designers, consultants, and local artists, will put the Toe River Valley on the map with new gateways to the area, wayfinding signage, an interactive online presence, and artist area identifiers.


North Star Destination Strategies from Nashville, working with the creative team of artists and staff from the Toe River Arts Council, has completed the first stage of a multi-faceted and long-term project to brand Mitchell and Yancey counties for the arts. The result is a crisp but familiar name for the region, a distinctive logo, a unique and balanced strapline, and a compelling narrative. In addition, North Star has delivered a comprehensive Final Brand Print Report with a plan on how best to use the materials and concepts to promote the area for the arts.

The crisp but familiar name for the region is Toe River Arts. After conducting surveys of artists and of the community at large (a total of 371 respondents), the favored name was Toe River Arts to represent the geographic region and the arts within that region. Toe River Arts is focused on uniting the two counties as one cultural arts entity and making the area’s rich arts resources known both regionally and nationally with the ultimate goal of revitalizing the local economy through the arts.

The next decision was about a strapline—to strap together the missions and agenda of the many organizations and people involved with a community brand. Chosen was JOURNEY OF THE ARTS I ART OF THE JOURNEY. The creative committee was drawn to it because, in North Star’s words, “A slight rearranging of the word order on each side changes the meaning of the words, thus recognizing the value of both types of journeys in the Toe River experience.”

North Star’s extensive research brought about a narrative to use in talking about the qualities that make Mitchell and Yancey counties such an ideal location for making and appreciating the arts. Parts of this narrative will be interwoven in presentations and press releases about Toe River Arts, including on the website being developed for the project.

Essential to branding the area is visible, attractive signage for artists and arts venues. That is the goal of the next phase—wayfinding‑—and MERJE Design, based in Chester, PA., will guide all aspects of the wayfinding project, including placement of roadway signage. Mayland Community College and Altec will lend support to create signage for individual artist studios.

Interested in finding out more about the TRA Branding and Wayfinding Project? Please contact Projects Coordinator Rob Heffron. Copies of the Final Brand Point Report from North Star are available to read at the TRAC Galleries in Spruce Pine and in Burnsville.

Whether you are a maker of art, a lover of art, or both…time spent exploring Toe River Arts is proof that not all those who wander are lost. That the journey of the arts is well worth the taking. And that when you do it right, there’s an exquisite art to the journey itself.