Marisa Brickman thought there must be some mistake.
In early 2015, she applied to be the new director of Moogfest, the music festival located in Asheville since 2010. But the post was listed in Durham, a city the North Carolina native had last visited as a UNC student some fifteen years earlier. Working in California, she had little idea how much it had changed, much less that its downtown could support a major music festival.
In the year since Brickman relocated to Durham, she has helped build an extensive, cross-discipline network to support the festival's restart. Its tendrils reach well beyond the city's music scene and into art galleries and corporate headquarters, university spaces and city hall.
Exactly a week before the festival's first event (Moog yoga, or "Moga," on the roof of The Durham Hotel), I sat down with Brickman to talk about the challenges of that ambition.
INDY: Moogfest isn't strictly a music festival or a tech conference but, instead, a lot of both. How often have you had to explain that mix during the last year?
MARISA BRICKMAN: All the time.
How does the pitch go?
Moogfest is a music festival. Moogfest is obviously a celebration of Bob Moog's legacy. With the very close relationships he had with artists, he developed tools that people could use for creative expression. During the day, Moogfest explores the tools that people are using to create and the intersection of how technology is impacting music, art, the way we think about ourselves. At night, the performances are the practical application of these tools. It's curated artists we think are doing interesting things with technological tools or things with their AV shows and are known in their genre for doing something a little bit different.
It's not practical, necessarily. It's meant to inspire people to think about the future of creativity and new ideas, to inspire people to talk to each other about things they might not normally talk about. It's an amazing collection of some of the brightest minds and interesting futurist thinkers, artists, and musicians in the world.
Those dual sides seem like they'd compound the typical work of a festival and the format. How have you navigated that?
I was looking at my job description, and I thought, "Wow, how is all this humanly possible for one person?" It's five people's jobs. You don't realize the full scope of something until you're in it. There's not exactly a blueprint to do what it is we're trying to do. There is a little, but the process of going to the "special events review committee" with the city and navigating that side of the equation has been interesting. I'm looking forward to pulling this one off and digging in to do other things we're excited about doing—more year-round programming, doing things in Durham, outside of Durham. Until we have a successful blueprint for the festival in Durham, it's not even worth putting too much energy into those things.
What's your primary goal for the weekend?
That everyone have a great time. That artists feel like it was different than the usual. That people have memories from Moogfest, moments of inspiration they've not experienced anywhere else. There's so many opportunities within Moogfest to blow people's minds and make them think a little bit differently.
Do you hope Moogfest has some generative effect in its new hometown?
Cicely Mitchell at Art of Cool and I talk all the time about how we need to train people to go out more, to pay for shows, to go out and dance, to party. It's not necessarily a culture of people going out all the time. The more things that exist like Art of Cool and Moogfest and Hopscotch, the more we can create this culture of people being excited to go out and see shows. Hopefully, Moogfest will contribute to creating more cultural capital and excitement in the Triangle.
Moogfest and Art of Cool have been linked, through little fault of their own, in the battle for city and county funding, especially because you're two weeks apart. How do you approach that division?
I feel like rising tides raise all ships. There's room for so many festivals. I don't see us as necessarily competitive to Art of Cool; I see us as very complementary to Art of Cool. The timing is just the tricky thing. We try to do Moogfest around Bob Moog's birthday every year, which is the end of May. Given the landscape we're in and the type of acts we book, it's a good time because, at the end of May, you've got Detroit's Movement Electronic Music Festival and a lot of acts coming in from abroad. It's too hot in the summer, and there's Hopscotch in the fall. This time frame is the most ideal for us.
The price of Moogfest has generated criticism, too, even from county commissioners. It seems, though, that the festival has worked to offer student discounts and free programming to combat that. Is that a deliberate way to create initial exposure?
When you're something new in a city, it's a challenge and opportunity to learn how to reach everybody. Our student tickets have been really successful. The day tickets ... we're still promoting the day tickets. We want everybody to be able to access Moogfest, whether that's through free programming, a student ticket, a day ticket, a festival pass. We have tried to create different opportunities to experience the festival. If you look at the price of a show at DPAC, for $150, you get to see one Broadway show. At Moogfest, for $249, we've got four days of experiences, one hundred shows, installations, conversations, workshops.
You came on board after the 2014 festival, where Moogfest lost $1.5 million and found a new home. How much pressure is there to break even?
It takes a while for festivals to break even. We're not on a path like a traditional festival, as far as getting bought. Of course, there's always the pressure to make something financially successful. Everybody's end goal is to break even and make money, but we all realize that, with what we're doing, it's going to take a little while to get there.
If Moogfest doesn't break even, it will be back in Durham next year, correct?
Every year. We're here forever now.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Circuit Diagram"