Because Asheville has been mentioned a couple times, here's a February 2013 story about the local arts scene (it's not specific to ceramics, bit it does hit on some of Paul's criteria):
As alluded to in the initial post that sparked the above story, the Asheville Area Arts Council has gone through a tough few years. The current Executive Director seems to be doing some great work in turning it around, though - this profile is from last month:
My take: Asheville can be an expensive place to live, especially for young people and/or artists (who might be otherwise employed part or full-time). Tourism is big business, and lots of jobs are dependent on that - and not very high-paying. A lot of people work multiple service jobs. I'm not sure this is different from other cities in the US these days, but the heavy reliance on tourism can make it seem that way to a casual observer.
But - if you can afford to live in or near Asheville, it can be pretty great. Diane nails it on the generosity of potters and ceramic artists in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Handmade in America and the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design are two terrific Asheville-based craft organizations. And plus one on Clay Club - Clay Club rocks!