How an industry knocked to its knees comes back swinging with new role: using festivals as classes for extreme events and climate change preparedness

State’s professional development program uses festivals to build community resilience in three North Carolina cities/regions


(May 20, 2022) A traveling national program that uses festivals as classrooms to build community resilience will be coming to three North Carolina regions this year and next. Majestic Collaborations and Performing Arts Readiness have partnered with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to host three Art of Mass Gathering events onsite at arts and cultural festivals in Asheville, and Coastal North Carolina. Events will be announced as they are confirmed; those interested in learning more or participating in the free symposia can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube or sign up for newsletter updates at our website.

The Art of Mass Gathering will take place at these North Carolina Festivals:

Coastal North Carolina: Surfalorus Film Festival– September 19- 21, 2022
Asheville, North Carolina: The LEAF Global Arts Festival– October 20- 23, 2022
● Third Festival to be determined

The Art of Mass Gatherings is an experiential learning event that uses festivals as sites for experiential learning to activate an arts-focused approach to community resilience and emergency preparedness. It invites artists, event producers, and emergency professionals to come together to share knowledge and best practices for enhancing the safety, accessibility, and sustainability of large gatherings. By bringing together a community of professionals involved in producing mass gatherings, event producers and emergency responders alike will become more fluent in each other’s craft. Thanks to the support of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, this event is free and open to 50 participants. Lunch is included and accommodations are available by request upon registration.

The North Carolina initiative is the first of its kind for the Art of Mass Gatherings. Previously, each state has hosted only a single Art of Mass Gatherings symposium, a choice that was made to more evenly distribute the professional development opportunities across the country. The success of a previous Art of Mass Gatherings at the North Carolina Folk Festival in Greensboro, NC in 2021 led to the new statewide partnership with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, a vital government department that oversees the state’s art,
cultural and heritage concerns. “North Carolina’s rich and diverse cultural arts sphere, led by local artists and organizers from the heart of Appalachia to the Outer Banks, has gifted our community with fertile creative soil” says Steph Coolbaugh, arts and cultural organizer involved in the initiative. “Through the Art of Mass Gatherings, we have an opportunity to sow the fields of community engagement, accessibility, and preparedness for forthcoming North Carolina arts events.”

NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Reid D. Wilson says, “Training like this helps the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources work more effectively with partners across the state around issues of climate change, public health, accessibility, conservation, and community benefit. This ‘whole community’ approach will help build North Carolina’s capacity in mitigating and preparing for the effects of climate change. “

The program’s focus on arts and cultural events is strategic. “After producing over 120 festivals over 12 years we realized that people who set up festivals are skilled at creating temporary cities with all of the necessary infrastructure such as water, waste, power, security, transportation, and structures” explains Matthew Kowal, co-founder of Majestic Collaborations. Many of the same skills required to produce safe, accessible, sustainable live events are transferable to contexts requiring any combination of the development of temporary infrastructure, management of large groups of people, and support of community mental health and wellness. Co-founder Molly North adds: “By sharing their knowledge and building skills in these areas, artists and event workers create more inclusive events, expand the safety and resilience of their entire communities, and increase qualifications for a range of job opportunities both in and outside of the arts.”

Working with locally-based hosting committees led by our local coordinator, Steph Coolbaugh, Majestic Collaborations customizes each symposium to meet the specific needs of the areas in which they are held. Topics at past events have included mental and physical first aid, power systems design for events and emergency response, stages and structures, alternative energy design, and cultural asset mapping to identify unique regional capacities for creative resilience. Presenters include both local luminaries and special guest experts from around the nation. The event format encourages attendees to take turns as students and teachers, fostering learning and professional networking at the interesting intersection of event production and emergency management.

“Building capacity, increasing readiness and expanding use of our cultural organizations and networks is important to North Carolina’s future,” says Catherine Swain of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “These training resources will help expand community engagement across the state, and we are excited to work with all the various partners helping to move us forward in this direction.”