How can a festival drive the economy?


I personally believe that each one of us has, in some way, seen the arts heal, connect and galvanize individuals and communities in ways that government, nonprofits or businesses rarely can.

That is the entire reason the Xpand brand exists. We believe in activating creativity to synthesize change. But when creating an innovative business or attempting to make large economic changes, we are aware it can be challenging to help others understand the programming you are engaged in, and what the true long term impact could be.

I’m sure the original creator of the wheel had some skeptics and we have historic evidence from people who never thought a man-made piece of metal would fly in the sky. We also know that not everyone believed in the internet’s power to change the face of businesses, but we now know that it can, and has. Early adopters are vital to innovation and the sustainability of healthy economies. That’s why the Xpand brand uses leaders in arts, science and business to create innovative programming to address economic challenges.

If you need more clarity on who or what the Xpand brand is, we invite you to reach out to learn more about our grand vision or to look further around our website. This particular article is about festivals, using Xpand Fest as our example, and how they can be used to drive the economy! Before diving right in, let’s discuss a little baseline information on what ” driving the economy” even means.

One definition of economy states it is: of, relating to, or based on the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. So in basic terms, a group of businesses with goods and services in a similar geographic location makes up an economy. While there is obviously much more to that conversation, for our purpose that’s enough to move us forward with discussing the concept of driving the economy.

If images come to mind of being in the driver’s seat of a giant bus full of local companies all trying to move their individual business forward (in sales, brand awareness, etc), you wouldn’t be that far off. Simply stated, an economic driver is most commonly something that contributes to the growth of a particular business or business sector. Traditionally, local government and workforce development companies are always analyzing innovative ways to encourage sales and business growth through avenues such as networking opportunities or programs that connect potential workers to available jobs. While those programs can be highly beneficial, they are often slow moving and can be challenging to garner funding for.

If you ask us, the EXCITING PART (wait you say, there’s an exciting part?) of discussing economic drivers in our current society, is that with internet and technology advances, any business can engage in driving the economy with unique programs, opportunities and, yes, EVENTS!

The City of Asheville recently did an impact study of special events to better understand their economic impact locally. That study highlighted many benefits to local companies including attracting customers as well as directly reporting that over 2.5 million dollars a year is being generated for local businesses through special events. That study reiterates what many cities around the country already know: events can have an exceedingly positive impact in driving local economy.

So, with an understanding of the economy, what driving the economy means, and how events are a big economic driver in our modern society, let’s talk about why we started Xpand Fest and what type of impact we are having for Asheville’s economy in our first two years of production.

First and foremost, we purposely made Xpand Fest a FREE outdoor street festival in a fast growing area of Asheville’s downtown to encourage locals, particularly marginalized communities, to participate. We are aware that residents feel downtown has become exclusively for the tourists, so we want to be sure the local community of Asheville feels invited and included in Xpand Fest and our economy. If locals don’t participate in spending locally, the burden will rest on outsiders to move our economy forward. While we will always cater more to our locals, we do understand that tourists have an impact on our city, and we hope to be part of the movement towards finding a healthy balance.

In two days of programming, Xpand Fest has brought out 14,000 people with over 60% of those attending being local community members across socio-economic demographics. Finding the balance between supporting local and accepting new money outside our city is the formula we believe will continue to grow Xpand Fest and our economy sustainably. Speaking of sustainability, Xpand Fest has directly spent $130,000 in our local economy, with many other financial and community advantages as well.

So let’s break all this down a little further for you to truly understand where our money flows and how your participation can help us further this mission and creative community engagement…

Each year (2017 & 2018) Xpand Fest has contributed:

  • $30,000 directly to local small businesses
    • Some of the types of businesses impacted include:
      • Advertising, printing and merchandise companies
      • Food, beverage and supply businesses
  • $45,000 towards fair wages for:
    • Local production and business professionals (on average- $30,00+)
    • Local creative professionals (on average $13,000+ on musicians & performers)

Additional Festival impact (2017 & 2018 combined impact):

  • Up to 3x’s reported sales increase for Xpand Fest partner businesses directly in the footprint
  • $30,000+ worth of time donated by local professionals and volunteers to support the community focused mission
  • 100+ small businesses are able to directly engage with 2,500 – 5,000 people to:
    • bring awareness to their mission or brand
    • collect email addresses or donations
    • sell their product
      • Handcrafted/Business Booths average $500+ in income
      • Food Vendors average $1,250+ in income


While there is so much more that we are focused on growing for Xpand Fest 2019 and beyond, we hope this further your understanding of the economic impact of our first major program with the Xpand brand and that we are here to create unique programming from a grassroots level to support the Asheville economy.

We truly believe that by bringing the community together to highlight the arts as an innovative economic tool that we can all use Xpand Fest and the Xpand brand programming to:

  • Stimulate local economic growth of the creative and entrepreneurial community
  • Bring together diverse local community members to solve timely problems
  • Become a leader in thought, word and action to preserve history, and move our economy forward with sustainability at the forefront of our decision making processes.

Simply put, we love local! We also love the entrepreneurs behind our economy and we dedicate our work to uplifting and supporting these communities for the sustainability of all.

Johanna Hagarty

Executive Director // Founder; Xpand

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1 thought on “How can a festival drive the economy?”

  1. Pingback: Xpand Fest 2019 Blog Series: Arts & Culture | Xpand

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