Aimed at building the creative-arts community and mentoring young professionals, last month’s HATCH Asheville festival was a success, according to organizers and attendees alike. But as with any first-year event, there’s also room for improvement, they say.
“A lot of people didn’t have an idea of what it was all about,” notes Craig McAnsh, the festival’s executive director. “The first-year premise for us was proof of concept. So the first year, for me, was about getting as many people as possible to experience it.”
In that regard, the festival “was a resounding success,” he maintains (though as the only paid employee, McAnsh says he’s still collecting data on paid attendance).
The event ran April 15-19, and since then, McAnsh says he’s received positive comments and e-mails from a variety of sources. Sponsors have said they’re on board for next year, and volunteers want to continue their involvement with the festival. Meanwhile, both the mentors and mentees—the festival’s focal point—say that the mingling at panel discussions, workshops and parties was productive, he reports.
“There was a lot of really in-depth dialogue and connections that were made,” says McAnsh. “That collaboration and inspiration is still in the air.”
Tangible results are harder to put a finger on. Connections made at the festival are still developing, he notes. For example, promoter Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment met David McConville, co-founder of the Asheville-based design-and-engineering company The Elumenati at the festival. The two are now talking about putting up one of McConville’s inflatable domes at Bonnaroo (which Capps co-founded), McAnsh reports. And local musician Woody Wood hit it off with Benjamin Taylor, who owns Iris Records, says McAnsh, opening the door to possible collaboration on a project.
That’s the way the event is supposed to work, he explains. Results “don’t necessarily happen right at the festival itself: The dialogue continues in ripples.”
Not everyone is equally upbeat, however. Jim Barton, a semiretired technical writer and environmental educator, attended two afternoon panels. During one, he wrote the following on his Twitter page: “Makes me deeply question Hatch. Who invited such eco-clueless people? They’re mostly under 35.” Asked to elaborate on his criticisms, Barton said he’d rather take up those concerns with event organizers.
Those issues aside, though, “It’s a delight to live in a town where there are so many people willing to volunteer and donate to create artistic, innovative and creative events,” says Barton. “That’s one of the great things about living here.”
Brian Gallagher, an editorial assistant at WNC Magazine and a journalism mentee, says he benefited from working with mentors in his field during HATCH.
“When you get a lot of people together who care about what they do and put them in interesting situations, it ends up being productive, because you get exposed to a lot of new ideas and new conversations,” Gallagher observes. “It’s about sharing your passion with other people that love to do what they do. Everyone kept saying ‘inspiring,’ but it was.”
Still, Gallagher says he’d like to see the festival improve its Web presence and do a better job of explaining itself to the public, particularly people in Asheville. For his part, McAnsh points out that many attendees didn’t venture into more than one area of an event that encompassed everything from journalism, fashion and architecture to technology and design.
For Sam Neill, who heads up the Creative Commerce Division at AdvantageWest, HATCH’s first year was a success, and the event will only get better. The nonprofit, public/private economic-development group, which helped bring the festival to Asheville, has more than $30,000 in taxpayers’ money and private donations invested in it, he notes.
“This is a different model. This is more of an educational process and about economic development—relationship building and helping people network,” says Neill. “We’re trying to cultivate the creative class from the bottom up. I think it’s our future.”