4 days. 5 venues. 18 wildly unique projects.

Counterculture: Kindling Arts Festival 2023

In its sixth artistic season, Kindling Arts continues to develop innovative new works by Nashville’s experimental artists, empowering diverse creators with the resources required to explore challenging ideas. Nashville’s most radical independent artists explore new modes of performance-making and challenge the status quo. Recent Kindling Arts productions have been named ‘Best Immersive Theater Experience,’ ‘Best Summer Arts Festival,’ ‘Best Local Theater Performance,’ and ‘Best Wrestling-Karaoke Crossover’ by Nashville Scene.

The 2023 Kindling Arts Festival will be held July 27-30, with productions being presented at OZ Arts Nashville, The Darkhorse Theater, The Barbershop Theater, Nashville School for the Aerial Arts, and the Global Education Center. When interviewed by Music City Review, Daniel Jones and Jessika Malone, co-founders and co-artistic directors, shared more about the 2023 Kindling Arts Festival.

SILVER PLATTER Amm Skellars (Photo by Tiffany Bessire)

Music City Review (MCR): What similarities might exist between performances featured at the Kindling Arts Festival and those performances presented by the Nashville Symphony, Nashville Opera, or theatrical productions staged at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center?

Daniel Jones (DJ): What Kindling Arts offers stands in contrast to the other larger institutions in town: Kindling is presenting all-local work through a contemporary lens with innovation and experimentation at its core. While many larger organizations relegate contemporary or local projects to a new work development program that supplements the overall season, Kindling is supporting original Nashville-based performance projects as the core programming.

The type of work we are drawn to frequently pushes the envelope and explores complex issues of today’s society. We embrace what others might consider risky programming in an intentional way. We want to provide a home for projects to which other organizations may not be as open.

MCR: In what ways is the Kindling Arts Festival unique? Are these unique attributes an exciting or scary proposition for attendees?

DJ: Kindling Arts Festival is the place where local audiences are most likely to see truly interdisciplinary and unclassifiable work that defies traditional genres. Many of the anchor projects in the Festival each year combine authentic elements of many genres. The result is a thrilling new way to experience live performance – it’s visceral and energetic and often immersive. It allows us to expand the possibilities of what people think of as “theater.” The most common thing we hear is, “I may not have known exactly what I was watching, but I was sure happy to see it.”

MCR: How does the Kindling Arts Festival fit within the greater Nashville arts community?

DJ: Kindling Arts has become one of the most important assets to the local arts community. We provide a platform where young or emerging artists can debut their first creations, while more established artists can take big risks and be fully supported by experienced producers in the process.

HORIZONTAL Eve Petty and Diego Gomez (photo by Kara McLeland)

We are also often a connector between organizations. For example, the invention of creative partnerships like the Poetry into Film Collaborations that were developed with Defy Film Festival debuted at OZ Arts Nashville. Another exciting new relationship has been initiated with Friends Life Community, allowing the work of artists with disabilities to be showcased. We believe that there is power in collective action and meaningful partnership; we love any chance we get to support other organizations or independent artists in the community.

MCR: How are productions and exhibits curated for the Kindling Arts Festival? Is there a theme or common link that connects the productions?

Jessika Malone (JM): This year, we’re thrilled to introduce a connective theme to the festival for the first time: Counterculture. Countercultures disrupt and subvert conventional practices and attitudes and can encompass various aspects of life, including music, fashion, art, literature, and social activism. They challenge established social, political, and cultural systems, often while advocating for alternative ideologies, embracing nonconformity, and celebrating personal freedom and self-expression.

Our festival was conceived to challenge the dominant traditional structures in live performance and has become its own kind of counterculture inside the city. We’re really excited to see how artists in this year’s festival have been inspired by the theme and responded to it with new creations.

MCR: Some suggest that art reflects the context and society in which it was created. If this is true of the Kindling Arts Festival, what might the artists be communicating this year? If the statement isn’t necessarily accurate, what might attendees take away from this season’s schedule of productions?

JM: Oh yes, our artists are both reflecting and refracting this moment in our collective history while simultaneously setting a vision for the futures they wish to see and inhabit. It’s a beautiful kind of magic to behold. If we were to step back and listen to what the artists’ collective voices are calling us to this year it would be to celebrate oneself in all of one’s uniqueness because the world needs each of us. We’re better together so let’s get together and create the space we deserve.

Individual Tickets, Wildfire Weekend Passes, and a variety of other ticket packages are currently on sale at www.kindlingarts.com/2023-festival. Individual tickets range from $10.00-$35.00, including some premium seating options for select events. The Standard Weekend Pass provides access to all Festival offerings for $95.00, while a VIP Weekend Pass, including premium seating at applicable events and a Kindling t-shirt, costs $150.00. Other package options start at $40.00.

Everyone deserves a voice. Everyone deserves to share their spark. Help make both charges a reality by supporting Nashville’s innovative art scene at the 2023 Kindling Arts Festival.

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