Branding through Cultural Festivals

Apr 8, 2014

Last month, estimates of hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Austin,TX for the South by Southwest Festival.  The music, film, and idea fest has helped cement Austin’s place in the new startup economy and now other cities around the nation are following their lead. 


Official estimates say SXSW brought about 190 million dollars to Austin in 2012.  But more importantly, SXSW has crowned Austin as the place to go for new art, music, and ideas.  

Paul Beyer, the director and founder of Tom Tom Founders Festival  is trying to claim a little bit of that cultural clout for Charlottesville, VA.

Not unlike SXSW, Tom Tom Founders Festival combines music and art with business and technology conversations.

"I think the biggest misconception is that the only people that are creative are musicians and artists, and in fact, scientists, business owners, people just scrapping to make something happen bring it to life--it’s all creative."

Going into its third year, Tom Tom has 5 days of events, including over 60 concerts, 110 speakers, and art installations all over town--and the whole thing is free.

The idea is you just get to downtown and there is a creative conversation in so many different genres happening for you to just jump into.

Tom Tom aims to provide a platform for local businesses and creative endeavors.  Take FleaVille for example.  Riffing off of a flea market model, FleaVille supplies an affordable space for local artists, designers, crafters and collectors to sell their wares.  It was started by Arielle O’Shea and Jeannette Andamasaris, two Charlottesville professionals who simply saw a need.  Andamasaris, an interior designer, says FleaVille can give local vendors the boost they need.

The two went to Beyer, who invited them to launch at a Tom Tom event last October.  It was so successful, they’ve been able to make FleaVille monthly.  Which in turn, means more artists and creators can use FleaVille as their launchpad.  It’s exactly that upward spiral of creation that festivals can provide cities.  In Roanoke, VA, the CityWorks (X)po, is building a similar entrepreneur support system.

"The magic of (X)po is everybody connecting and the focus is what comes out of that because we know when people connect and they’re inspired, that great things can happen," says Brent Cochran, one of the organizers.

Of course, besides constructing a network within the city, a festival--when it’s done right, can draw creators and investors into the region.

"There’s this opportunity to create a brand that says we’re open for business and we’re open for people coming to create new things here."

This year, Tom Tom is collaborating with the Innovation Laboratory--iLab for short--at the University of Virginia.  The iLab, which is part of the Batten Institute Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business is a business incubator with a national network.  Phillipe Sommer is director there and like Beyer, Sommer says large-scope businesses and cutting-edge technology go hand in hand with art and local culture.

"I know it seems incongruous because we tend to segment things, but community is very important in innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s only tension if you define community, history, and local as things that don’t change.  Change is good."

Tom Tom Founder’s Festival will be held in Charlottesville between April 9 and 13th.  You can find a schedule and list of events at their

Visit here for information about the CityWorks (X)po in Roanoke.