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Tom Tom Festival to take over downtown Charlottesville this week

The initial Tom Tom Festival lineups focused on ways to attract new businesses and creative ventures to Charlottesville to help ensure a vibrant population.

If You GoTom Tom Festival Wednesday through Sunday Downtown Charlottesville

These days, the evolving event is concentrating on existing assets, and challenges, in a community that’s repairing valuable civic fabric and seeking to identify shared goals in the aftermath of the deadly Unite the Right rally-turned-riot and an isolating pandemic.

The 12th annual festival, which takes place Wednesday through Sunday in downtown Charlottesville, retains its popular entrepreneurial Crowdfunded Pitch Night and wealth of diverse local entertainers. But by redirecting its focus to what its creator calls its “stakeholders,” the festival can share initiatives and experiences suggested and led by community members.

“Tom Tom is short for ‘Tomorrow Tomorrow,’ and it is a festival about the future of the community,” festival founder Paul Beyer told The Daily Progress. Once timed to coincide with Thomas Jefferson’s April 13 birthday in a playful nod to the area’s rich past and the enterprising president’s name, the collection of gatherings now meets a week later, surrounding Earth Day, with more emphasis on how to create and care for a shared environment.

Addressing deep issues of racism cast into high relief after the deadly 2017 riot prompted a step back from the Jefferson connection, in a search for more inclusivity and a fresh focus on it “future emphasis,” Beyer said. Reflecting on social justice also allowed fresh voices to step forward; Beyer said the current festival, with its “Together” theme, was developed over the course of about nine months by about 300 local “stakeholders” willing to put in the work to discuss how the city’s future could be stronger.

“Every single session and event Tom Tom puts on is co-created by someone in the community,” Beyer said.

Last year’s emphasis on criminal justice reform led to this year’s citizen-led “re-entry summit,” which will dive into ways to help integrate former inmates into community life again and explore “what creates the most dignified welcome and how we can keep people out of jail,” Beyer said.

A centerpiece of that programming is an interactive reentry simulator scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday at Carver Recreation Center that will give visitors a chance to learn from people who’ve been there how daunting the challenges of finding housing, employment, banking, transportation and acceptance can be. Beyer said making the commitment to pay formerly incarcerated residents to operate the simulation honors the participants’ expertise and their willingness to help neighbors grasp the eye-opening issues they face.

Other topics to be explored include restorative justice, which takes cases out of the court system and into mediation to offer new paths forward.

“This is an example of the idea of coming together,” Beyer said. Among the organizations sponsoring the reentry programming are Equal Justice USA, the University of Virginia Law Decarceration and Community Reentry Clinic, Foundation Fund, Second Chancer Foundation, Home to Hope, BUCK Squad, Uhuru Foundation and OAR.

The festival, which includes a mix of ticketed and free events, starts with the 11th annual Crowdfunded Pitch Night at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the CODE Building. One of 11 local entrepreneurs will come away with a $5,000 grand prize to turn a business dream into reality. This year’s finalists vying for the audience’s and judges’ support will be Ahan Dalal, Bennett Slosman, Beza Bisrat, Chris Tobey, Curie Chang, Feather Chen, Jeanette “Jetty” Prophyl, Jen Fleisher, Martisha Catoe, Nicole Hawker and Sara Zia.

The third annual Downtown Mall Block Party, set for 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, is free.

Fans of local music can expect multiple stages focusing on diverse genres, including Latin, African, house, hip-hop and go-go.

The fun begins with the Fridays After Five lineup in Ting Pavilion of No BS! Brass Band, the Falsies and Theocles, as well as the third annual R&B and Dance stage offerings led by DJ FlatlineLay and DJ DoubleU. Dancers will represent Elite Empire, D.N.D. Dancers and AKAdeMiX Dance Crew, and the audience can expect hip-hop performances as well.

The Latin dance stage will welcome Foreign Playerz for salsa and bachata on Friday night, as well as performances by dancer Gia Ray, and C’ville Bachata Social will present dance lessons and sessions on Saturday.

The Rusty Iris Art Bus will offer space for capoeira and fire performances, and the clever Silent Disco will be part of Saturday’s offerings. Kendall Street Company also will perform on Saturday.

Past parties have brought about 20,000 people to the Downtown Mall to mingle and forge new bonds, and Beyer said there’s a deeper value behind the fun and games.

“It’s a party with a much broader civic mission. It’s rebuilding the fabric of a community,” Beyer said. During the past decade, he said, Charlottesville residents have experienced “the severe trauma of the August 11 and August 12 events, the extreme upheaval after these events dividing the community in many ways, and then the trauma of the pandemic.”

“I hope Tom Tom is one of many mechanisms to help rebuild civic trust and friendship,” Beyer said.


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