Nicole, Author at A Destination for Ideation | Asheville Ideas Fest

June of 2022 was a watershed moment: 450 friends from around the country came together with world-class thinkers and doers like Fareed Zakaria, Jon Meacham and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. Our crew included writers, scientists, film-makers and chefs. We had Grammy winners, a National Book Award winning author, and the freshly-minted James Beard Award Winning "Top Restaurant in America". Asheville Ideas Fest is helping to ensure that Asheville will be known for our intellect and culture just as much as our food and craft beverage scenes. You can think of Asheville Ideas Fest as a four-day, intellectually focused vacation paired with amazing music, outdoor recreation, great food and some of our favorite craft beers. Our third annual Asheville Ideas Fest will take place June 17-20, 2024. Please make plans to join us. Let’s ensure you don’t miss a thing!

Expand your intellect, activate change, and participate in respectful discussions at Asheville Ideas Fest. This three-day event has different themes each day, all designed to spur intellectual curiosity and foster an environment for exchanging different points of view. Enjoy panel discussions with more than 25 well-known speakers and experts — from award-winning authors to business owners to the former mayor of Atlanta — and participate in activities in and around the Asheville area.

The inaugural event, held in June 2022, convened 450 attendees for deep listening, respectful discussion and relaxation, all while enjoying the food, craft beverages and invigorating mountain air of Asheville. Rowena McClinton, professor emerita of history in Illinois, was one of the attendees.

“I received an outline of the program a couple of months ahead of time and it just sounded so exciting,” McClinton recalled. “The program addressed issues that I was extremely interested in, like incarceration, what programs are available for people who are incarcerated, and what programs are available once they are in the free world.”

Asheville Ideas Fest featured a discussion with award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick and graduates of the prison education program featured in her documentary series “College Behind Bars.” Novick, Rodney Spivey Jones and Reginald Dwayne Betts participated in a panel discussion about the film and the importance of education for the incarcerated.

“I think people will look back decades from now and say, ‘I learned something about myself and other people that’s changed the way I operate in the world and opened me up to a different set of perspectives,’” he said. “I hope that people will reflect back on their experience many years down the road and go, ‘Boy, I was really glad I was there.’”

“Life today is complicated. We are surrounded by conflict and divisiveness, leading to overwhelming feelings of isolation and loneliness,” says Kirk Swenson, executive director of Ideas Fest, in a release. “Gathering at (Asheville Ideas Fest) encourages us to see things in new ways through thoughtful, intentional discussion and by compassionately sharing meaningful ideas from diverse perspectives,” says Swenson in a release.

Panel discussions begin Tuesday, June 18; James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Katie Button will speak the same day about compensating service workers. Button’s best-known restaurant is Curate, which she opened in Asheville in 2011.Other speakers include theoretical physicist and bestselling author Dr. Michio Kaku, former mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms; co-anchor of PBS NewsHour Amna Nawaz; and Wiley Cash, a New York Times best-selling author who was born in Fayetteville and raised in Gastonia. Cash has also taught courses at UNC Asheville as an author in residence.

The annual immersive forum aims to encourage curiosity, facilitate conversation, and bring together a diverse community to find new perspectives.

This year’s fest brings together experts from fields and all walks of life. Chef Katie Button will lead a panel discussion on dignity and equity for service workers, alongside James Beard Award-nominated chef Dean Neff, Highland Brewing CEO Leah Wong Ashburn, and Community Manager of New England RAISE Betty Marcon.

Mandy Chapman Semple, managing partner at Clutch Consulting Group; addiction specialist Dr. Christopher Mills; Erika Jones-Haskins, chief of policy initiatives for the US Interagency Council on Homelessness; and Alyce Knaflich, founder of Aura Home Women Vets will explore innovative solutions for addressing homelessness.

Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and bestselling author, will reflect on how the James Webb Space Telescope is uncovering the secrets of the universe. Then authors Wiley Cash and Ron Rash will host a lively live taping of the Our State Book Club podcast.

That alone seems like it could fill the whole schedule, but we’ve only scratched the intellectual surface — the four days will be full of conversations around free speech on college campuses, democracy + elections in the age of artificial intelligence, and moral dilemmas around land conservation, as well as workshops with panelists, networking, music, comedy, and food trucks.

“It’s something I refer to as an intellectual vacation,” said the event’s co-founder and executive director, Kirk Swenson. “We try to get people thinking about the biggest issues of the day and then spoil the hell out of them.”

Previous speakers at the Ideas Fest include Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN; PBS News Hour Co-Anchor Amna Nawaz; author and Newberry Award winner Kwame Alexander; Kizzmekia Corbett, a lead researcher at the National Institutes for Health Vaccine Research Center; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham; Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times; and many more.

The idea behind the event is to offer thought leaders speaking on topics about which everyone may not agree. But at Asheville Ideas Fest, the disagreements don’t devolve into shouting matches or arguments; rather, it’s more of a civil discourse.

“When you disagree about something,” Swenson explained, “you might get mad, but then you could ask, ‘What is it that makes you see this differently?’ It’s better than immediately thinking someone’s a moron because they disagree with you.”