Hopscotch Design Fest aims to inspire creative pros

08/28/2014 8:00 PM

08/27/2014 1:48 PM

Since September 2010, Hopscotch Music Festival has drawn concert-goers to downtown Raleigh for its 100-plus bands. This year, Hopscotch widens its scope – and starts things a little earlier.

On Wednesday and Thursday, designers from various disciplines converge for the first Hopscotch Design Festival. It’s a distinct event, ticketed separately from the larger music festival, which runs Sept. 4-6, but it’s under the same aegis. Conceptually, too, it looks to the future. The area is growing, Hopscotch founder Greg Lowenhagen says, and he sees his new festival/conference hybrid as an idea pool for those who aim to steer it.

“Raleigh is growing, the Triangle is growing, and there are a lot of big decisions ahead that have to do with growth in all formats and all walks of life,” he says. The designers that he and his partners are bringing work in art, music, and film, but also in urban planning.

Mitchell Silver, in particular, is New York City’s parks and rec commissioner. Until March, though, Silver was chief planning and development officer for the City of Raleigh. The Brooklyn native was tapped by New York mayor Bill de Blasio in what Lowenhagen is sure was a competitive talent search.

“He helped oversee the planning of a city that’s walkable, that’s livable, and that has a cultural vitality to it,” says Matthew Muñoz of Raleigh design and marketing firm New Kind. “I think Mitchell is an amazing example of what happens and what we talk about. You have these world-class individuals who are amazing at what they do and the way they think – and they’re recognized outside of the area and they choose to live here.”

Muñoz’s firm co-presents Hopscotch Design Festival, and his vision of a successful event is that of a conference where professionals get away from their usual routine to network, learn and find inspiration. He compares it to the festival’s louder half; Hopscotch Music Festival represents many types of music, and the Design Fest aims to represent a wide swath of the modern design world. There’s Thomas Edison’s great-grandniece Sarah Miller Caldicott, he points out, and Annie Atkins, lead graphic designer for the Wes Anderson film “Grand Budapest Hotel.”

“It’s something that doesn’t exist in this format in the Triangle, and we don’t think it exists in North Carolina,” Muñoz says. “There’s not a lot of two-day opportunities like this in the South.”

There are design conferences nationally and internationally, but Muñoz describes his and Lowenhagen’s event as a mashup – it’s a conference, but it also has the venue-hopping nature of a downtown festival. With ongoing growth and a burgeoning population of young creative professionals, it feels like the right time for such a hybrid event.

That said, they’re starting small. Lowenhagen set a first-year goal of 600 attendees, and there are four venues daily – though surprises and late announcements, like Wednesday night’s Lincoln Theatre show featuring local indie-rock bands Lost in the Trees and Gross Ghost, reveal a festival both tentative in its first year and excited by its own potential.

“Everything we’re trying to do here is on a fairly modest scale,” Lowenhagen says.

He hopes it grows in the coming years, though, into something that’s more visible on the streets. During Hopscotch Music Festival, he says, it’s obvious that there’s a major downtown event, as streets are packed with venue-hopping revelers, even late at night.

“We want the same thing to be the case with Hopscotch Design Festival a year or two or three from now,” Lowenhagen says. “When you’re downtown, everyone’s kind of aware: ‘Oh, yeah, it’s Design Fest,’ and they’re able to see something going on on the streets that they usually don’t see on a Wednesday in Raleigh.”

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