IF participated in the inaugural “Connect Beyond the Page” festival in Asheville, North Carolina April 20-22, which featured writers, musicians, filmmakers, television creatives who explored how the arts, storytelling and activism can bring people together. This festival was the brainchild of cultural entrepreneur Jessica Tomasin, who is active in the Asheville arts and community development scenes. Tomasin explained the festival’s goals to the Asheville Citizen Times: “We’re all creators in some form or fashion. … If you’re a cook, you’re creating, if you’re a woodworker you’re creating, if you’re a parent, you’ve created life. We’re all connected in that way, and we can find common ground.”
The events were coordinated at the core of Asheville, nestled in the Appalachia mountains. Asheville has been transformed in recent years as a popular tourist destination as well as a place for creatives to move to avoid soaring rents of the coasts where the entertainment industry is clustered. Asheville is a beautiful, bustling city, filled with great restaurants, live music, galleries, barbecue and a thriving craft beer industry.
IF Fellow Natalie Hopkinson read from her recent book A Mouth is Always Muzzled, an adaptation of IF’s Future of the Arts & Society project, as well as served on two panels: One was on the topic of women in media and entertainment, and the second was about bias and digital media. The culminating event was a recording jam session between musicians who’d traveled from Massachusetts, Los Angeles, New York, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, and there in Asheville. The recording took place at Echo Mountain recording studios, a converted abandoned church with soaring acoustics, and the performance was livestreamed as well as recorded to later air on the local affiliate of PBS.
Among the local activities was a gallery exhibit of “pre-gentrified” Asheville, a remote mountainous area that once struggled economically. Asheville’s transformation is an example of how the creative industries, as described in the possibilities in IF Fellow Jeff Prudhomme’s Shaping Our Cities and Towns report, can rejuvenate a community. However, as many of the artists struggled to pay for now-soaring rents, Asheville is an example of another policy possibility in the Towns report, of how planners must be vigilant to maintain a place for everyone once their development plans are successful.
We look forward to watching this festival grow next year.