Featured Archives - A Destination for Ideation | Asheville Ideas Fest

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.’”

“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.”