Asheville – The first annual Asheville Ideas Fest was announced during a press conference on Tuesday, April 26th by UNC Asheville Chancellor, Nancy J. Cable. The event takes place June 14 through 17, 2022. The inaugural experience will be held at the UNC Asheville campus and at key sites throughout the local region, including: Biltmore Estate, Grove Park Inn, and Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.
UNC Asheville is partnering with Explore Asheville, bringing this momentous event to our locale. Chancellor Cable explains that, “Core programming for this inaugural event of the Asheville Ideas Fest (AIF) will include conversations, discussions, lectures, audience participation, and break out groups with global thought leaders who are now convening in Asheville to focus on some of the dimensions of the most consequential issues of our time. With the critical and vital support of Explore Asheville, Ideas Fest of 2022 is the inaugural event of what we hope will become an annual event for the United States, and specifically for this region, for decades to come.”
When asked if there is a political ideology related to Asheville Ideas Fest, Chancellor Cable responded, “UNC Asheville, as the host, is a public institution and therefore this is not a political left leaning or right leaning event. This is about the coalescing of ideas and perspectives, and this will be, as much as possible, an apolitical event so that we are following our academic mission and also our state statutes. That said, we welcome all perspectives, all views, and we admire and will invite freedom of speech while folks are here.”
Cable went on to say that, “the Asheville Ideas Fest is also rooted in UNC Asheville‘s commitment to a shared humanity, and the UNC system’s commitment to intellectual engagement, plus the belief that seeing the world’s greatest challenges from new perspectives will drive positive change in our world. We must recommit ourselves to true engagement, intellectually, personally, and socially, with one another. This engagement will be possible with respected thought leaders, new voices, and fellow citizens with whom we agree, as well as those who hold beliefs different from our own. Now, as always, engaging in civil and intellectual dialogue is among the most patriotic actions that we can take to strengthen our democracy.
Pressing for some notable global thought leaders, Cable mentioned that, “some speakers at Asheville Ideas Fest include Fareed Zakaria, a bestselling author and host of Fareed Zakaria GPS for “CNN Worldwide”; Bill McKibben, environmentalist author and founder of 350.org; Jon Meacham, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author; Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Jason Mott, bestselling author and National Book Award Winner, just naming a few. In addition, several of our own UNC Asheville faculty will participate with other notable and influential leaders as panel respondents across a variety of themes and topics.”
Panel members, who shared the stage with Chancellor Cable, were Asheville City Mayor Esther Manheimer, Brad Wilson, Asheville Ideas Fest advisory committee member and former Blue Cross Blue Shield NC president and CEO Tunde Sotunde, along with Wiley Cash the NY Times best-selling novelist and UNC Asheville alumni author in residence.
Brad Wilson, who was also formerly on the UNC Board of Governors, expressed anticipation and excitement for this event to finally be happening. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long, long time. A conversation about something like this has been under way for at least 20 years, if not longer. This inaugural event is historic in nature, not only because it’s the first one, but it’s going to embed a legacy in Asheville, Buncombe County, Western North Carolina, and far, far beyond. I believe that there is no better place in NC to have the Asheville Ideas Fest than right here.”
Mayor Manheimer stated, “Asheville is a historic destination for intellectualism, thought leaders, and this is just a continuation of that tradition throughout history in Asheville, and throughout our region. This is a place that is known nationally, globally as a dynamic place of the eclectic arts, culture, music, culinary, literary, and outdoor destinations.” According to the AIF event schedule, it will include all of these.
Manheimer continued, “I appreciate the role that UNC Asheville has always stepped into, and is continuing to step into, as a convener of thought leaders. This is an important role for a university to play in any successful and vibrant community. It’s really a critical ingredient to a successful economy, to a place where people find happiness and fulfillment. While we know that the university plays an important role in supporting our economy, to the tune of $500 million a year in annual economic impact, it also impacts our lives in a positive way, to bring joy, to bring fulfillment, and to bring, for so many people, opportunity in the future. The goal of this event, to further deepen and broaden Asheville’s global reputation as a vibrant destination like no other. This brings another level of richness to that reputation.”
Wiley Cash, a novelist, added to the enthusiasm over the literary invitees to the AIF. “North Carolina can boast of two national book award winners for fiction, and they will both be joining us this summer. In 1997, Charles Frazier’s novel, “Cold Mountain,” took the publishing world by storm, going on to sell millions of copies worldwide, and winning the “National Book Award.” In 2021, Jason Lott published his novel, “Hell of a Book,” which is about race, and violence, and art, and survival. It arrives at one of the stormiest times in American cultural and political history. I’m thrilled to announce that both Charles Frazier and Jason Lott will share the stage of Ideas Fest with the international best-selling historical novelist Elizabeth Kostova, to consider the role of art and ideas in today’s political and cultural landscape.”
One of AIF’s highlights will be its presentation by Lynn Novak, who is a colleague and co-producer with Ken Burns, and has done a documentary called “College Behind Bars,” the story of the “Bard Prison Initiative,” performing outreach with the nation’s incarcerated culture. Lynn is speaking about her upcoming documentary on the history of crime and punishment in America. She is bringing two individuals who graduated from the “Bard Prison Program,” one of whom has just finished law school at Yale University and is about to receive a “MacArthur Genius Award.”