GeekOut festival finds its niche

PLAYDATE: GeekOut moves back to downtown Asheville this year. The event, with panel discussions, workshops, demonstrations and a fashion show, kicks off Friday evening with a promenade and costume photo shoot at Pack Square. Photo by James W. Johnson

Now in its fifth year, GeekOut is finding its place in the Asheville community, seeking to blend a universal love of nerdy pursuits with a healthy dose of the city’s creative arts scene. The theme of this year’s GeekOut is “Indie, Meet Tech.” It will showcase art that has a technological flair to its aesthetic. GeekOut begins Friday, Aug. 12, with a promenade and costume photo shoot at Pack Square.

“Anyone who wants to don a costume and join us is welcome,” says Janaé Elisabeth, program director for the convention. Festivities will continue at New Mountain on Friday night and all day on Saturday, Aug. 13. 

“We seem to have found our niche with geeky art this year,” says Elisabeth. “GeekOut is evolving to offer something different — a focus on arts and creativity across genres.” To illustrate a shift toward celebrating the creators and innovators in pop culture, the festival changed its tagline from “WNC’s Popular Arts Convention” to “Asheville’s Fan Arts Festival.”

“We’ve decided not to bring expensive screen or voice actors to the event this year,” says Elisabeth. “Our guests are musicians, print and graphic artists, fashion designers, podcasters, technophiles and geeks like us.” 

Thirty artists will present their merchandise, with many demonstrating crafts ranging from makeup to live drawing. Writers, such as children’s author and illustrator J Rutland and fantasy novelist S.C. Houff, will share career advice. Members of North Carolina’s first official “Star Trek” fan club, The USS Alaric, will also be in attendance.

Panels, workshops and demonstrations offer opportunities to learn about innovations such as LED displays, the live coding music synthesizer Sonic Pi and cutting-edge Arduino robotics sensors. The convention also features Mark Zoran’s movie car replicas (such as his recreations of the Back to the Future DeLorean, and the Ghostbusters car), a live broadcast of the “Figures Sold Separately” podcast with Ken Krahl, Renee Hill and Car2-D2, and a talk on the use of technology in movie costumes and props.

The interest in creative film apparel makes the Cosplay Couture Fashion Show a natural fit for GeekOut. The project was dreamed up and directed by Asheville designer and model Ginger Wilde. “There are a few steampunk outfits from designer Charlotte Cat Murphy, a Pokémon Go outfit from local designer KatDog Couture, and several new pieces from Olivia Mears,” she says. “There will be great costumes from local designers, plus the fun element of having some of the costume contest winners walk the runway in the show as well. It will not be a huge show, maybe between 10 to 20 models this year.”

Mears, who describes herself as an avant-geek designer, says that “GeekOut is talked about in the Western North Carolina area by anyone who enjoys comics, anime, video games, and the community that comes from those interests. Add fashion, and you’ll find some truly passionate artists.” For the runway, “I’m implementing the use of some unconventional materials, such as lights and thermoplastics to create sci-fi corsets that go over each of the dresses in the show, including a ‘dark versus light’ set of designs,” she says. Mears will also exhibit a design inspired by the 1979 sci-fi film Alien.

GeekOut began in 2012 when 800 people attended the inaugural convention at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel. Last year, the gathering took place at UNC Asheville, followed by an after-party at New Mountain. This year, the organizers of GeekOut moved the convention to New Mountain. “Holding the entire event downtown gives attendees the opportunity to experience Asheville’s natural quirkiness,” says Elisabeth.

The change in venue will limit some of the activities from prior GeekOuts — there won’t be space for a video game room or for the last year’s popular attraction, the live action role-play castle. “We will have LARP gaming set up outside this year. It won’t be the whole big castle, but there will still be room to play,” says Elisabeth. “We are also writing a fun pen and paper quest game that everyone who attends will be able to play if they want to.” Similar to a scavenger hunt, it also involves a number of wandering costumed characters.

Elisabeth adds, “A lot of geeky stuff happens at the space where indie-art and technology overlap.”

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