A Q&A with the fire starters at Kindling about the festival’s growth and how Pierce PR’s team helps fan the flame
Founded in 2018, Kindling Arts Festival is a multi-day celebration of local artists that showcases more than a dozen diverse performances and events in various venues throughout Nashville and hosts unique arts events year-round. The festival has grown significantly over the last six years, providing hundreds of local artists with space, resources and practical support and promoting underrepresented voices to make space for boundary-pushing work that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Over the last 3 years, our team has proudly led PR and media relations efforts on behalf of the festival, resulting in extensive coverage in prominent arts, lifestyle and business outlets across the city. (A few notable favorites include a lively Today in Nashville segment featuring puppets and jellyfish, a Nashville Business Journal story about the city’s changing performance arts landscape, and numerous stories and critics’ picks in the Nashville Scene).
In 2023, Kindling hosted 17 wildly unique performance experiences, ranging from improvised musicals and dazzling contemporary dance showcases to wrestling-inspired theatrical experience and immersive late-night parties investigating Southern tradition and embracing counterculture. In total, this year’s festival welcomed a record-setting 1,943 audience members and showcased the work of over 150 local artists, far exceeding initial projections.
Following its best year yet, we spoke with co-founders and co-artistic directors Daniel Jones and Jessika Malone about the festival’s future and how our team’s support helps ensure it continues to be a burning success.
1. Kindling outdoes itself every year. Looking back on the last 6 years, what are some of the milestones of which you’re most proud?
Every year we’ve been producing performances, it feels like there’s growth to celebrate. In 2018, we produced the first Festival which showed us the potential of what the organization could be. In 2019, we expanded partnerships with businesses and created performances in non-traditional spaces like a furniture store and a cocktail bar. In 2020, we creatively invested in virtual content that still felt fresh and exciting while many arts organizations were completely dark. In 2021, we found ways to safely return to in-person programming, making decisions few other organizations in the city had made yet. In 2022, we celebrated 5 years of programming with a blow-out of spring programming in addition to a record-breaking Festivall — in all, supporting more than 20 artistic projects in a single year. And in 2023, we once again broke all our records for attendance, Festival passes, and tickets booked. Nashville artists and audiences have responded to the need for experimental and authentic work with great enthusiasm, and we are honored to provide a home for these important performance works.
2. Our team has been lucky to support you two and your vision for the last few years. What have you found most valuable about our work together?
Pierce is a powerhouse and the proof of that power really rests in the numbers. Data doesn’t lie, and since working with Pierce, our reach and attendance goals have consistently far exceeded expectations — with our overall audience for our annual Festival increasing 20% each year. Your team truly takes the time to understand what we do — and as we purposefully make unclassifiable art, what we do is a challenge to explain! You know how to tell our story so that the word really spreads and we see the results when we walk into a full house each night at the festival. And you’re able to connect that understanding into tangible press opportunities — securing spots for us that we would have never thought of, like interviews with the Nashville Business Journal or a spot on WNXP.
3. If we were to describe our partnership, the words fun and rewarding would be at the top of the list. How would you describe the experience of working with our team?
Life-giving, organic, and above & beyond. Carson and Bri have been a dynamic duo who really get what Kindling is all about. None of us have to fake enthusiasm for each other, we are authentically excited by the partnership and get a lot of joy out of every single conversation, even when we are simply sorting through logistical details. Everyone from the Pierce PR team has also been so supportive of work, making time to see multiple performances in each Festival and deepen our relationship throughout the year. It’s such a gift!
4. You hit a lot of records this year in terms of performances, attendance and media coverage of the fest. What goals do you have your sights set on for 2024 and beyond?
We’ve experienced a lot of external growth over the recent years, but there’s also been just as much internal growth — the behind-the-scenes stuff that most people never see, like securing our 501c3 status from the IRS. A huge development, but not a very exciting process! So we hope to transform that growth into very visible external results in 2024, like amping up our fundraising so we can have pay our artists, technicians, and creative personnel even more equitably. We have always been a people-centered and artist-centered organization, and our budgets will continue to reflect that. We are also at a point where we need more passionate, creative people to join our team, so we will be looking to bring on positions like Associate Producers and Production Managers for Kindling Arts Festival 2024, which will allow us to reach even more artists and audiences!
5. We hope *everyone* has a chance to attend a Kindling performance (or 10). If someone reads this who hasn’t had the pleasure of experiencing Kindling, what would you tell them?
“You’re invited!” If you’ve never been to a Kindling event, don’t wait, just come on in! We love to welcome new audiences and can’t wait to meet you. Expect the unexpected and you won’t be disappointed. We promise you won’t be bored.