Jason Sandford is founder of Ashvegas.com. Jason grew up in Asheville and is a 20-year veteran journalist.
From left: Kitty Love, Franzi Charen and Jennifer Pickering
Three Asheville women with extensive community connections and experience planning and executing festvials are teaming up to create what they hope will be a new signature event for Asheville.
The festival dream team is: Kitty Love, who helped establish the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival; Jennifer Pickering, founder of LEAF in Black Mountain; and Franzi Charen, founder of the Asheville Grown buy local alliance.
"We've been dreaming on this for a little while. We really want tocreate something that is sustainable and resilient and long-lasting," Pickering said. "We're trying to develop something that becomes another signature event."
Love said the trio will draw upon years of experience working with successful festivals. The plan is to hold a one-day event on Aug. 31 on Lexington Avenue, using the LAAFF name, with the intent of holding much bigger event around the same date in 2015, Love said. LAAFF organizers canceled last year's event and promised to bring it back in 2014. The 2015 event would be a multi-day affair and would not close numerous downtown streets like Bele Chere did, Love said.
Festivals in Asheville have struggled in recent years. Earlier this year, Moogfest organizers announced that the retooled event earlier this year lost money. Last year, Asheville City Council decided to stop providing taxpayer money for the city's long-running Bele Chere event, which will not be held this year. And other events, including the annual Goombay! Festival in downtown and an October zombie walk, were scaled back or canceled.
Love, Pickering and Charen want to fill the festival void, and they want the public to help. They're actively asking the community to help name the event, and they're exploring questions about how to grow and market a sustainable event.
"As organizers for three of Asheville’s premier festivals (LAAFF, LEAF and Big Love) our collective annual impact has been significant in attendance and draw, in economic impact, in creating culture, and by organically identifying the soul of our community, all without the use of public funding,"Love said. "In the absence of Bele Chere we have a unique opportunity to create an event that truly reflects Asheville today and to inspire others to reproduce this model and build stronger cities across the nation."
Pickering said the group is thinking about an event that would pull the best elements from past events.
"We envision places where you can sample what LAAFF was - tutus and boas and men in skirts - and an area where you can experience LEAF in downtown by diving into family adventure and the arts," as well as an area that reflects the social entrepreneurship that's central to Asheville Grown, Pickering said.
"In a nutshell, it's an event that samples the best Asheville has to offer in arts, music and entrepreneurship," she said.
Pickering said the goal is to create an event that supports itself and that is run by a nonprofit endeavor.
Charen said the group wants community suggestions on a name for the new festival as it works out all the details of the event.
"Where we lack capital, we make it up in social equity," Charen said, "and that's more powerful.
"That's what Asheville Grown has always said - if you can figure out how to collaborate, then you'll be successful."