The first issue of A! Magazine for the Arts was published in November 1994, following several months of discussion among various members of the arts community. Art Powers, then publisher of the Bristol Herald Courier, originally convened the group to investigate the feasibility of forming an arts council. Instead of starting an arts council, the group created the monthly magazine, as a way to provide information about the arts to the region. The original committee defined the region to be served as the I-81 corridor from Bristol through Abingdon, to Emory, Virginia.
During the first few years of publication, the magazine was mailed to 7,000 targeted households. The marketing department of the Bristol Herald Courier, headed by Wallace Coffey, managed the editorial committee of volunteers and oversaw the editorial content. At some point, the newspaper management made the decision to change the method of distribution, and so the magazine was inserted into 28,000 copies of Bristol Herald Courier once a month. The editorial committee members began delivering about 2,500 copies of the magazine to certain locations around the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region. For a few years, the newspaper delivery managers carried about 500 copies to some of the outlying areas.
When Media General bought the newspaper, the same arrangement continued for some time. During the year 2000, Media General determined that the magazine should add antiques as a focus. The name was changed to A! Magazine for the Arts and Antiques.
From the very beginning, a committee of volunteers has performed editorial duties. These volunteers come from various areas of the arts in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. They generally do not represent particular institutions or organizations. Instead, they approach the task of producing the magazine in a manner intended to benefit the entire community, rather than serving themselves or their particular organizations. The editorial committee plans and edits the content of the magazine. The members generate story ideas, communicate with the writer (Leslie Grace), edit copy, advise on cover design and proofread copy. The committee usually has 16 or more members, who form teams of three or four persons to produce each monthly issue. A list of current committee members may be found on page 2 of each issue of A! Magazine.
In March 2003, A! Magazine for the Arts received the Tennessee Governor's Award for Arts Leadership. This award was presented by Governor Bredesen to Ann Holler, then chairperson of the Editorial Committee.
In the fall of 2003, management of the Bristol Herald Courier indicated that they wished to change the relationship of the newspaper and A! Magazine. The newspaper was willing to donate printing and distribution, if A! Magazine could be published by a non-profit organization. On October 15, 2003, Jim Hyatt, Regional Publisher for Media General, made this announcement to a group of arts representatives.
This new arrangement began January 1, 2004, for production of the February 2004 issue. Under this arrangement, Arts Alliance Mountain Empire is the owner and publisher of the magazine, which has reclaimed its original name, A! Magazine for the Arts. The editorial committee has undertaken the sale of advertising, with the assistance of its volunteer advertising director, Ann Holler. The magazine prints news from the entire Tri-Cities region, although the primary area of distribution is Washington County, Va., and Sullivan County, Tenn. Volunteers provide extra copies of the magazine to various drop-off locations around the Tri-Cities.
The May 2004 issue marked an important milestone in the history of A! Magazine, as the first issue to have 20 pages, and also the first issue to be printed on bright white paper, instead of regular newsprint.
The tenth anniversary issue of A! Magazine for the Arts was the November 2004 edition, a 28-page issue.
The first 24-page issues were October and November 2005.
In 2007, Arts Alliance Mountain Empire received a prestigious Pinnacle tourism award for A! Magazine for the winning combination of a print edition, on-line edition and e-mail digest.
In June 2012, Angela Wampler retired and a new writer/art director, Leslie Grace began. Her first issue was in July 2012.
The magazine receives sponsorship funds from the Tennessee Arts Commission.