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.
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