Opinion: Asheville Ideas Fest proves to be incubators of new concepts, fresh ideas

Chancellor Nancy J. Cable calls Asheville Ideas Fest an overwhelming success.
Chancellor Nancy J. Cable calls Asheville Ideas Fest an overwhelming success.

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

Universities serve as economic drivers; we are standard bearers of resources for the community with academic programs like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, facilities like UNCA's Ramsey Library, its athletic complex, and visual arts and cultural enrichment offerings 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 of all backgrounds and life experiences to share ideas, explore new concepts, and inspire a zeal for knowledge. The inaugural Asheville Ideas Fest sought to introduce new ways of thinking and inspire connection to both established principles and emerging trends. UNC Asheville brought together global thought leaders, and we are indeed proud of the results.

Over 400 guests were in attendance with 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 about some of the most significant matters of our time. At this 2022 inaugural Asheville Ideas Fest, some of the brightest minds and pioneers of their fields convened in our vibrant mountain city to address important challenges facing our nation and the world. From a talk on climate change with Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author; to a panel on equity in public health and medicine with a distinguished panel of experts; to the backstory on the development of COVID vaccines and introduction to Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D., assistant professor in Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; to presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham, whose intimate talk was enlightening and humorous; to a panel featuring bestselling authors Jason Mott, Elizabeth Kostova, and UNC Asheville Alum Writer-in-Residence Wiley Cash.

Related: Answer Man: Is Asheville Ideas Fest 'exceedingly peculiar?' Tickets are $2K?

We were also pleased to host documentary filmmaker Lynn Novick to highlight her film, College Behind Bars, on prison reform. Over the course of three days, attendees 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. After Tuesday night’s kick-off, breakfast and lunch stations were available each day, featuring an assortment of fresh offerings, while on Friday, attendees sampled some of Asheville’s favorite, award-winning culinary food truck fare. Each morning began with outings such as paddle-boarding and yoga on the UNC Asheville campus. And nightly, attendees enjoyed concerts from 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 gorgeous grounds of the Grove Park Inn by Asheville Symphony Orchestra’s ALT ASO.

Thanks to the support of generous donor partners and corporate sponsors, we were able to open Wednesday night’s Fareed Zakaria lecture and discussion, Democracy Around the Globe: Myths and Reality, to the public. Over 1,200 people were in attendance.  We were also able to extend an invitation to Asheville Ideas Fest to selected friends, local educators and teachers of the year from our area, city officials, and nonprofit leaders in our community at no cost. As a nationally ranked and highly respected university, UNC Asheville has a mission to educate our students and to 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 inaugural Asheville Ideas Fest,” said Vic Isley, president and CEO for 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 engage more diversity in participation for years to come.”

The dynamic, thought-provoking and immersive experience at 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 receive recognition as innovative incubators of new concepts and fresh ideas, complementing our region’s well-established reputation for vibrant arts, sciences, humanities, culture, culinary, literary and music scenes. I am grateful for the community’s support for the inaugural 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.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Opinion: Asheville Ideas Fest proves to be incubators of new concepts