The City of Beckley will showcase local and regional artists through BEX Fest — Southern West Virginia's premiere film, music, arts and culture festival June 22-30.
According to Shane Pierce, operations manager of The Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre, the name BEX (pronounced becks) was modeled after a similar arts festival — the South by Southwest Music Festival (SXSW) — held annually in Austin, Texas.
“We liked the sleek look of SXSW. We knew we wanted to parody the logo, but we also wanted to give it that Beckley feel and influence. We thought of the name 'Beckley' and how we could market it. From there we got 'BEX.'"
Currently, BEX will feature around 40 events, all aimed at inclusivity and diversity. Of the 40 events, 21 have free admission; 29 are family-friendly; and 16 are specifically targeted at youth.
Setting it apart from other arts and entertainment festivals, which usually keep the events in a single location, BEX is the product of the collective efforts of multiple businesses, organizations and artists of the area — meaning its events will scatter across the city.
The week of programming will include film, music, installations, pop-ups, workshops, vendors, performances, exhibitions, special guests and more.
Larger events that span over several days include a BEX film festival, which will be held at The Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre; the Academy of Arts Theater Camp, which will end in a recital meant to showcase the skills the students were able to cultivate over the week; a city-wide art scavenger hunt; and the BEX Around Town Group Exhibition.
Other events include several informative workshops that focus on a variety of topics such as pottery, bead-making, hemp-making, zine-making, painting and creating content on social media; a human library event, which tells the power of storytelling and the spoken word; an oddities and curiosities fair; several art showcases; an up-and-coming musician showcase; a walking architecture tour; and a camera-obscura pop-up exhibition, which simulates the inside of a camera by blacking out a room with only one lighted focal point or “pinhole.”
BEX will also hold a live music show featuring The Dangerous Summer — a rock band from Ellicott City, Md.
The week will end with a BEX Farewell Brunch, a time for reflection of the week’s events.
Business and organizations involved in the exhibition include the City of Beckley, Beckley Events, the Downtown Beckley Business Association, Sir Walter’s Tavern, Ambrosia Inn, Raleigh County Public Library, The Chocolate Moose, ArtWorx, Butter Chicken Pictures, Theatre West Virginia and many more.
A complete list of the week’s events, event locations, and partners can be found on the festival’s website at bexwv.com.
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The organizers of the event — Shane Pierce, Christine Kinder, Saja Montague and Jared Kaplan — have worked for months to bring BEX to life.
“Obviously an event like this has been talked about and tried before," he said. "Several of us talked about creating an event like this, but always said 'maybe in the future.'
"We wanted it all to come together in an organic way, and it did, but it needed a push. The difference that happened this year was instead of leaving the conversation at 'maybe one day,' we said 'let’s do it.'"
Official coordination for the exhibition began in January.
A common thread that brought these four individuals together was their hope of showcasing the unique talent Beckley has to offer.
For Montague, who will be heading several events of her own over the course of the week, BEX is all about inspiring artists and others in the community to take pride in where they come from, while simultaneously encouraging younger community members to find a future here.
“For a long time, I wasn’t proud of where I was from," Montague said. "I grew up under this 'you better get out of here' mentality and it took me many years to get where I am now as far as how I feel about where I’m from.
"This place [Beckley] has so much happening; we have so many beautiful and cool people and artists here. We want to highlight artists in the community and show that we are all trying to make things happen and inspire others to do the same thing."
Kinder said for her, BEX Fest is about “experimenting with different ways of bringing our community together.”
“Beckley has an incredible amount of overwhelmingly talented people, artists and youths and sometimes that talent gets lost," Kinder said. "I think our hope, my hope, is that this festival and week of highlighting all organizations and individual artists puts us on the map as far as the arts are concerned.
"Beckley has its own vibe, but a lot of people have trouble putting their finger on it. We are a weird little place and this festival is an expression and celebration of our weirdness.”
Kaplan’s goal is to expand the music scene in the community.
He and his business partner, Brandon Lingerfelt, were largely responsible for the marketing aspect of BEX, but Kaplan furthered his involvement by organizing the bands and music video showcase for the festival.
Kaplan said when he was younger, he often had to travel to other cities for concerts — because "the good bands never come here.” His goal of bringing good music to Beckley led Kaplan to booking The Dangerous Summer for the festival.
“The idea is that if we can have people excited about the music in Beckley or events in Beckley, we can draw on that. Once we have them here, they can begin to see everything this city has to offer, which is a lot. Beckley isn’t an afterthought — we want people to actually stay to visit and not just pass through.”
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For more information, visit bexwv.com or visit thee Beckley Events Facebook page.
The Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre will also have scheduling information for BEX events being held at the theatre, which can be found at theraleighwv.com.