Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Fest, Asheville’s hyper-local street festival, returns for one final installment on Sunday, Aug. 31. And while that one-day celebration marks a farewell for the grassroots event that launched in 2002, it’s also the start of a new locally focused fest that will roll out in 2015.
“The point is to celebrate the culture of Asheville,” says Jennifer Pickering who, with Franzie Charen and Kitty Love, is in the process of dreaming up LAAFF’s successor. Dubbed “the Dream Team” by local media, Pickering, Charen and Love are each major players in local institutions. Pickering is the executive director and founder of Lake Eden Arts Festival (now The LEAF); Charen founded Asheville Grown and helped to produce Big Love festival; and Love, the executive director of Asheville Arts Council, established LAAFF.
A first step is to name the new festival, “And we want that to come from the community,” says Charen. Have an idea for a name? Write it in the comments field — Pickering, Charen and Love will be checking in.
Need some inspiration? While the new festival is very much in the planning stages, the organizers did offer some insights. “One of the pieces from LEAF that we’re dedicated to is bridging a lot of people together and doing it in ways that let people have their crazy wild expressive ways and at the same time lets a family have a really safe, sweet experience,” says Pickering.
Charen calls it, “Orchestrating opportunities for magical experiences to happen.”
Working with LEAF over the years, Pickering has watched the process that turns observers into participants. For that festival, knowing she wouldn’t have the budget to book bands with “huge, flashy names,” Pickering focused on “creating an event where people wanted to attend for the dynamic, rather than the famous, headliner.
“LEAFers come to discover and explore,” she adds. Wanting to build an event that celebrates the culture of Asheville while remaining dedicated to local artists and businesses, the Dream Team plans a key role for the area’s musicians. Those who are booked for the festival will, in turn, give their input on the hiring national and international acts.
“One of our hopes for the larger acts is that [following the festival], they’ll put on a free workshop or give back to the community in a creative way,” says Charen. That’s another cue taken from LEAF: “All of a sudden, there’s a whole different level of engagement with the community,” says Pickering, who notes special programs by artists like Bootsy Collins and Mickey Hart.
The footprint for the festival, while still in early planning stages, will utilize Pack Square Park as well as the traditional LAAFF area on Lexington. It may also spread to other parts of downtown, such as South Slope and Wall Street — all still to be determined. “We don’t imagine it will close the majority of downtown like Bele Chere has,” says Charen. “We imagine that parts of the festival will be brought indoors, incorporating places like Fine Arts Theatre and N.C. Stage, and incorporating the restaurants to showcase local food.”
Rather than blocking businesses with booths, the festival planners are thinking about “pockets of complimentary experiences,” as Pickering puts it, with performers such as buskers and stilt-walkers throughout.
So far, the vision means launching around Labor Day of 2015 with a two-day, free conference that brings together the Creative Summit, Venture Asheville, New Song and High Country Local First and aims to have “a series of opportunities to dive deeper and into conversation and creativity,” says Pickering.
“We definitely want there to be an economic development component where we look at where we’re going and what kind of policy we want to lead us into the future as a city,” says Charen. “Also, where can we create opportunities for import substitution and what types of businesses are viable?” The idea on the table is to create a conference around those concepts and questions as well as the music and arts industry.
There would also be a two-day event, probably on a Saturday and Sunday, with more of a focus on music: “A celebration of all we’ve discovered at the conference,” Charen says.