Asheville Ideas Fest turns out to be incubators for new concepts


Nancy J. Cable

Universities serve many purposes; we educate students to prepare them for meaningful employment and a life of leadership and service and instill in them a foundation to positively impact our democracy, society and communities.

Universities serve as economic engines; we are the standard bearers of resources for the community with academic programs like the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning, facilities like UNCA’s Ramsey Library, its sports complex, and educational offerings. visual arts and cultural enrichment such as concerts, theater performances, community readings, lectures and events.

But, beyond the commitment to our talented and active student body, a university is also a strong and important connector. We are a beacon that brings together people from all walks of life and life experiences to share ideas, explore new concepts and inspire a zeal for knowledge. The first Asheville Ideas Fest sought to introduce new ways of thinking and inspire connection to established principles and emerging trends. UNC Asheville has brought together global thought leaders, and we are indeed proud of the results.

Over 400 guests attended, some from as far away as New York, New England and Dallas. We were proud to host this opportunity to enlighten, educate and catalyze conversations on some of the most important topics of our time. At this inaugural Asheville Ideas Fest 2022, some of the brightest minds and pioneers in their fields have gathered in our bustling mountain town to address the significant challenges facing our nation and the world. A talk on climate change with Bill McKibben, ecologist and author; a panel on equity in public health and medicine with a panel of distinguished experts; the backstory on COVID vaccine development and introduction to Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health; to presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham, whose intimate address was informative and humorous; to a panel comprised of bestselling authors Jason Mott, Elizabeth Kostova and UNC Asheville Alum Writer-in-Residence Wiley Cash.

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We also had the pleasure of welcoming documentary filmmaker Lynn Novick to present her film, College Behind Bars, on prison reform. For three days, participants came together to analyze, question, listen and connect. At Asheville Ideas Fest, guests were treated to daily offerings of farm-to-table food, music, and outdoor activities. Following Tuesday evening’s kick-off, breakfast and lunch stations were available each day, featuring an assortment of fresh produce, while on Friday attendees sampled some of the foodie’s award-winning culinary favourites. Asheville trucks. Each morning began with outings such as paddle boarding and yoga on the UNC Asheville campus. And every night, attendees enjoyed concerts by some of Asheville’s finest musicians, including Grammy-winning guitarist and vocalist Graham Sharp of the Steep Canyon Rangers, as well as a memorable performance on the beautiful grounds of the Grove Park Inn. by ALT ASO of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.

Thanks to the support of generous donor partners and corporate sponsors, we were able to open to the public Wednesday evening’s Fareed Zakaria lecture and discussion, Democracy Around the Globe: Myths and Reality. More than 1,200 people attended. We were also able to invite selected friends, local educators and teachers of the year from our area, city officials and leaders of non-profit organizations from our community to the Asheville Ideas Fest free of charge. As a nationally ranked and highly respected university, UNC Asheville’s mission is to educate our students and serve as a vital source of ideas and energy for the city, region, and beyond.

“Explore Asheville was proud to partner with UNC Asheville, supporting the creation of the first Asheville Ideas Fest,” said Vic Isley, President and CEO of Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. “This is exactly the kind of meaningful dialogue and discourse we need to propel our community forward. We look forward to helping build on this initial success and engaging greater diversity in participation to coming years. “

The dynamic, engaging and immersive experience of Asheville Ideas Fest will evolve and improve with feedback from attendees. The goal is to ensure that UNC Asheville and the Western North Carolina region are recognized as innovative incubators of new concepts and fresh ideas, complementing our region’s well-established reputation for dynamic artistic, scientific, human, cultural, culinary, literary and musical scenes. I am grateful for the community support for the first Asheville Ideas Fest, and we look forward to our next Asheville Ideas Fest in the summer of 2023.

UNCA Chancellor Nancy J. Cable has led the university since August 2018.


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