Just recently, the Nashville Business Journal ran an article explaining why Nashville did not make the Forbes 20 Coolest Cities list. What? Not Nashville! The city that has been on every 'top' list possible in the last several years. So what gives? Well the city scored low on diversity, art and culture. Surprised? Many people were not. Nashville has made great strides in art and culture, but judging by Forbes, we've still got some ways to go. There is a glimmer of hope however. The Nashville Culture Fest may just find us a seat at the cool kids' table with Washington D.C., Austin, and Seattle among others.

What is Culture Fest?

The Nashville Culture Fest is a five-day multidisciplinary arts experience presented by the Artspiration Group. Culture Fest invited Nashville and the region to explore, examine and engage in the art and culture of the African Diaspora through music, theater, dance, film, visual arts, literature, humanities and children’s educational programming. The vision of the festival was to be the creative spark that ignites the community; and ignite the community it did. The festival provided content that made Nashvillians think, feel, and act on the ideas presented.

The Culture Fest started on Wednesday August 27, 2014 with a Caribbean inspired theme and wrapped on Saturday August 31st with a moving tribute to Miles Davis. For an entire week Culture Fest immersed festival goers in music, poetry, jazz, and visual arts. Some events were free while the more high-profile concerts were $25. Nationally known artists worked alongside local Nashville artists. In all, Culture Fest was unlike any other experience I've had in Nashville. Organizers say that Culture Fest will be back bigger and better next year, and I can’t wait.

Despite the incredible highs, there were some unfortunate lows - mostly due to the lack of attendance at some of the higher profile events. While some events were appropriate for a smaller crowd - a small group of 11 was perfect for the writer’s workshop with resident poet Jessica Care Moore - other events required the energy of a large crowd that just did not show. There were several ideas as to what caused the low turnout (e.g. promotion, ticket prices, unfamiliarity). Whatever it was, festival organizers took note and expect to work out the kinks for next year. Thank goodness, because Nashville needs Culture Fest to occur for years to come – and here’s why:

1. Nashville is uncool...

Don't blame me, blame Forbes. Nashville did not make the Forbes list of 20 Coolest Cities. Nashville was in the lower half of the ranking because the city scored low in diversity, and even more telling, in art and culture. Art and culture is what makes a city cool to reside and visit. A healthy art and culture scene also attracts artists and creatives to the city. Artists help activate neighborhoods and create a sense of place. This unique energy increases quality of life and enables residents to find their unique place in the community.

2.The content…was…awesome.

As far as festivals go, Nashville is making some progress - i.e. long running festivals like the Tomato Fest, African Street Festival, Oktober Fest, and Hispanic Family Festival. These festivals offer entertainment - food, music, and community resources. The Culture Fest however, found the sweet spot between entertainment and educational content that made you think. But not so fast, the Tomato Festival and others have their place; which brings me to my next point...

3. More Nashville festivals = more Nashville fun.

This tweet from Nashville Mayoral Candidate Jeremy D. Kane says it all:


On the Saturday of Culture Fest, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition hosted the InterNASHional Food Crawl, a fun and inexpensive event. Families were able to hop from family friendly and free events at Culture Fest and attend the food crawl. Festivals and events that offer cultural options add to the quality of life for its residents. So we need more of them...keep 'em coming.

So what's the future of the Culture Fest in Nashville?

In order for Culture Fest and others like it to be successful in Nashville, the events need intentional support from city leadership and residents. The success of content rich festivals like Culture Fest could showcase Nashville as a viable place for other large-scale festivals, which are also seen as economic drivers. Cities are looking at festivals as economic drivers that build their urban brand and draw tourists, major brands, and creative artists and makers. Because of this new role, cities are evaluating festivals in a new way. In Chicago, the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs is launching the Great Chicago Fire Festival and is evaluating the festival based on:

How (well) does this stimulate the imagination of young people? How has it ignited new interest in Chicago history? How does it stimulate other artists to think about how they can program or activate the river in their own unique ways?

I believe Nashville should also be intentional in cultivating festivals that reach ALL of its residents - especially as Nashville continues to become a more diverse city.


Culture Fest attracted diverse audiences, and included programming for children and families. Photo Credit: Nashville Culture Fest

The Cool Factor

I have become a  supporter of culture and the arts. I believe that exposure to art and culture inspires, educates, and allows us to appreciate our neighbors' backgrounds and experiences.  I applaud the organizers of the Culture Fest for taking a chance on Nashville. You saw past the Forbes list and let us sit at the cool kids' table, and for that we're thankful.

Culture Fest - Welcome to Nashville! Photo Credit: Nashville Culture Fest


Authortifinie capehart

Coffee or Cocktail? For African-American Neighborhoods, is the coffee shop the desired ‘third place’? On a lazy Saturday afternoon I found myself channel surfing, landing on the popular T.V. show Friends. Taking a much-needed break from reality T.V., I was again entertained by the sitcom; an actual script with real characters and timed jokes. As I watched I thought about the set of Friends – set in New York City, the characters'  local coffee shop was just as much a character as the people themselves.  The coffee shop Central Perk was the characters' Third Place. The Third Place in the planning world is that place where people gather in addition to their first and second places – home and work. This often translates to your favorite coffee shop, book store, or lounge.

As I watched the cast of Friends split their time between their New York apartments and the fictional coffee shop Central Perk, I thought about other ensemble cast shows of the era  and remembered that they all had their own third place that played its own ‘part’ in the show. However those places where distinctly different between all white or all black casts...hmmm....


Who can forget the coffee shop (and Jennifer Aniston haircut) that started it all!


The cast of Seinfeld often gathered in the fictional Tom’s Diner,  squeezing into the same booth show after show.


Who can forget the diner where relationship war stories were shared. Enough said.


Café Nervosa was the backdrop for the quirky psychologist, his brother, and friends.

For shows with African-American casts, the third place was a bit different. It wasn't the traditional coffee shop or diner, it was often the after hours spot. (And just a note, photos of these places were more difficult to find, hints that they were less of a 'character' on the show.)


 Martin, his crew, and his alter egos, often spent time at the fictional Nipsy’s Bar after work.


Throughout the seasons, Joan and her Girlfriends often relaxed over wine and good laughs at cool night spots.


And who can forget the dope musical performances at the end the New York Undercover episodes. Well the name of the fictional bar was Natalie’s and it was owned by a character played by Gladys Knight. This portion of the show was so popular that a soundtrack was released during the show's earlier seasons.

So, Coffee or Cocktails?

I had the opportunity to sit in on a focus group in a historically African-American part of Nashville, TN to discuss development opportunities. When pressed for what type of amenities they would like to see in the area, all agreed that a sit down restaurant to relax in the evening with family and friends was the way to go. So that got me thinking…what is the third place in African-American neighborhoods? Is it always the revitalization darling the coffee shop, or something else? If we can answer that question, perhaps we can find a revitalization solution that works for African-American, or other minority, consumer markets.

Culturally Relevant Places

This brings me to the question of, what types of amenities could enhance a sense of place in minority neighborhoods? Google "Culturally Relevant Place Making" and you won't find much. It's not a buzz-phrase in planning circles as of yet, but it ought to be. Cultural Place Making is identifying what creates a sense of belonging for a particular demographic. Identifying what is culturally relevant in terms of the urban environment, could ignite a stronger connection to one's community. Organizations like the Latino Urban Forum are bringing attention to this concept by engaging minorities in the planning process to help them identify what ignites that sense of belonging.


If you had a preference of the 'Third Place' what would you choose - coffee or cocktails?


What ignites your sense of belonging in your community?