Letting their freak flags fly

“The loonies are in Asheville now,” declares Kitty Love. “We need to give them a reason to stay.”

Putting it in slightly more eloquent terms, the co-founder of the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival notes that the annual event “will help to stimulate and propagate the kind of culture we would enjoy living in.”

Now in its third year, LAAFF has grown from an experimental gathering of local artists and businesses to what verges on being a block party, spanning North Lexington Avenue up to its intersection with College Street.

“This festival is all about everything local,” insists fellow LAAFF co-founder Michael Mooney. (Like Love, he’s prone to delivering headline-worthy soundbites.)

“It’s what the locals are doing for the locals!” he continues.

The hype is backed up by fact. All artists scheduled to show at LAAFF live in Western North Carolina, while two festival stages will boast strictly local bands, and six Asheville restaurants will dish up culinary treats.

Not to mention that all LAAFF organizers and sponsors are from here, too, Mooney adds.

“Even the beer — French Broad and Green Man — is from local breweries.”

The freaks’ arts council

The push to keep LAAFF local hints at a political agenda that’s quickly becoming as integral to the event as meat-on-a-stick is to Bele Chere.

With most other major festivals, vendors parachute into Asheville from other cities and then depart for home with the cash they earned. But LAAFF vendors live — and buy — right here.

“All the money made in the festival stays in the community, including the money Arts2People makes,” explains Love.

LAAFF’s grassroots parent organization Arts2People offers arts classes and other related opportunities to those who might otherwise be unable to afford them. In the coming year, festival proceeds may even go to a joint project with Helpmate, a local nonprofit devoted to domestic-violence prevention.

Still, charitable effort alone does not a great arts event ensure.

Scheduling their street party in the thick of the late-summer festival glut — Labor Day weekend this year also brings Haywood County’s Smoky Mountain Folk Festival, Henderson County’s Apple Festival, and Asheville’s Sistahs on Stage women’s-music fest — means LAAFF had better have something pretty eye-opening to offer.

That part of the Lexington Avenue event’s mission is well taken care of.

Sure, a few tourist-friendly crafters will be “allowed” to show at LAAFF — but the more off-the-wall creative impulses also won’t be buried under a heap of hand-woven baskets.

“We consider ourselves to be the freaks’ arts council,” Love maintains. “We want to be sure that as Asheville grows, the economy based in the arts stays fresh and sincere.”

Arts2People is devoted to emerging artists, she adds. “We focus on supporting the grassroots movement.”

Which means that LAAFF will feature everything from the healing arts to an art-car contest, from Japanese Butoh dance to canvas dance, from food booths to edible art.

Even Love doesn’t know exactly what all to expect of the one-day event.

“Organizing has been an experience … ” she begins.

“Like herding cats,” Mooney finishes for her.

“Yes, but the flip side is, you get these amazing surprises,” Love persists.

The LAAFF kids’ area, for example, will likely not be dominated by such routine-festival staples as face painters and balloon-animal makers. “Their supply list includes shaving cream and pipe cleaners,” Love says with a shrug.

After all, the event is avant-garde.

Which brings up another good cause central to the festival: allowing people to express themselves unfettered.

Still, Mooney’s on board to make that sure no one takes themselves too seriously.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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