Tom Tom Founders Festival

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Tom Tom Foundation is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit dedicated to connecting communities and sharing solutions.

Beginning in the spring of 2012 as a community festival to bring people together to celebrate the creativity & entrepreneurship of Charlottesville, Virginia, the Tom Tom Foundation officially formed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to steward the event and expand its focus to a fuller suite of themes required to make flourishing, opportunity-filled hometowns, including education, health, data, climate, and justice.

They believe finding solutions relies on having conversations, and that’s what they do best. By bringing multi-sector leaders together to discuss the innovative (and often undersung) solutions happening across the country, they’re helping facilitate the collaborative path forward that cities need most.

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Paul Beyer and Oliver Platts-Mills were the initial co-founders of the festival. They partnered with Natasha Sienitsky and a Richmond-based event organizer.


The 2012 festival was a month-long event that began on April 13 with a local music and art themed block party at the McGuffey Art Center. The next was a Kite Day festival in the eastern half of McIntire Park. Every Wednesday during the festival, Tom Tom hosted an innovation-based presentation and conversation. The festival concludes with a weekend of live music productions held throughout downtown Charlottesville, a local food expo, and a gala at IX Project.


The four-day event in September included a campaign forum at which local entrepreneurs asked questions of candidates for Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. [1]


Keynote speakers at the Founders Summit included Dahlia Lithwick. [2] An exhibit installed on the Downtown Mall by Aaron Fein had to be removed due to high winds. [3]

Tom Tom also held a special restaurant week this year. [4] There was also a Future Forum. [5] The winners of the crowd-funded pitch night were two students from St. Anne's Belfield. [6]

Focus on America's Ambitious cities

When they talk about “ambitious cities,” they are pointing to the small and medium-sized cities—those with populations fewer than one million who account for roughly 97 million Americans or a third of our country—who they believe are underserved when it comes to access to peer-scaled solutions.

A 2019 study by Brookings Institution found that citizens of these small and midsize metropolitan areas make up 30% of the total population of the United States.[7] The population of midsize metropolitan areas, in particular, grew 10% between 2008 and 2018, as documented by Bloomberg CityLab.[8] According to the New York Times, this trend has only increased in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.[9]

The ability to produce innovative ways to solve issues impacting small and midsize cities has the potential to inform decision-making in larger metropolitan—and even rural—areas, because the demographic and economic trends of small and midsize cities more closely mirror those of the country. As Brookings states, “The ability of midsize metro areas to successfully navigate racial and ethnic transitions and to continue to evolve their economies from production to services, may be critical harbingers for our nation’s abilities to do so overall.”

Upon consideration that large cities (populations over 1M) currently comprise 56% of the total population in the US—but hold an out-sized influence on both national policy narrative and contemporary culture—the need for targeted intervention supporting the interests of small and midsize cities becomes increasingly urgent.

Cities Rising Project

With their 2020 in-person events canceled, they pivoted their annual Summit and Festival to a completely virtual, seven-week deep dive into the most pressing issues facing small cities—The Cities Rising Summit.

The series saw 2,325 highly targeted and engaged leaders and impact makers attend from 48 states. The series’ focus on pandemic recovery and racial justice featured 72 events, 151 speakers, and the opportunity for attendees to discuss and workshop solutions in the areas of health equity, criminal justice reform, education equity, economic vitality, public arts, data-led social good, and small city innovations.

42% of attendees were professionals from the ages of 20-39, and 36% of the attendees serve as directors or executives at their organizations. The multi-sectored industries represented included Nonprofit leaders (14%), Education leaders (9%), Municipal leaders  (9%), Health Service Leaders (5%), and many others painted a diverse audience composition. The incorporation of a virtual platform has allowed us to erode barriers to participation and create a more inclusive and diverse community.

From the success of the Summit rose the Cities Rising Project (CRP)—an initiative of the Tom Tom Foundation—a year-round network of diverse citizen leaders who create and share solutions for building thriving communities through unique educational and networking opportunities. Comprising the project are a series of program models that explore cross-sector issues and highlight groundbreaking work from across the country:

  • Conferences—free and open to the public— address rotating topics to meet the needs of partner communities in real-time.
  • Cohorts of emerging leaders that navigate curated curricula to meet their community’s particular needs and engage with conference programming as audience members, speakers, and critical small-group ideators.
  • Pop-up Events, responsive to the news cycle and interests of the CRP network of leaders, that highlight key issues and share partner innovations.
  • Cities Rising Summit—the culmination of a year’s collective work—where CRP community members and cohorts report on projects, build new relationships and lay the roadmap for the coming year.

Building from the success of pilot programs including the 2020 Cities Rising Summit, NextGen Southside Leadership Cohort, and Legalize It: The Path to Cannabis Equity in Virginia, the Cities Rising Project seeks to expand its program offerings in 2021 and to empower its growing network of citizen leaders with the relationships and resources they will need to address the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

Commitment to Race & Equity

Tom Tom Foundation recognizes the pressing need to anchor these conversations locally and will continue to pursue a rigorous internal dialogue about thekr organization’s role in addressing them. They understand that this work begins internally, and recognize that there are many ways they can improve. They are actively seeking to realize that through both day-to-day actions and long-term plans.

Foundation Programs

They will elevate diverse voices and create impact-oriented programs that are anchored in equity and inclusion. These priorities are reflected in all of their programs including the Cities Rising Summit, the Exposed series built in collaboration with the United Way, Legalize It: The Path to Cannabis Equity, their Com Com community presentation platform to support the voices of the communities they serve to share power and resources, and their Virtual Roundtables series focused on recovery & resilience.

Race & Equity in the Workplace Conference & Community Career Development Events

As part of their efforts to actively support the movement to transform the systems that perpetuate racial inequities, they have built, in collaboration with many community advisors, a virtual event series to address race & equity in the workplace to build more equitable communities by creating and maintaining a workforce and leadership that is racially diverse, reflective of the community they work with, and culturally responsive. This two-week series is keynoted by chief spokeswomen of Vice President Kamala Harris, Symone Sanders, and features a career development expo and young-talent hiring fair.

Equity Practice

They have shifted their revenue model to pay-what-you-can programming to ensure that everyone can be a part of the conversations impacting their community. They are also working to increase the financial compensation they offer to their speakers, especially their local community members and BIPOC presenters.

Program Collaborators

They will continue to increase the diversity of their community program collaborators. They have worked hard to include a diverse and representative group of collaborators in past programs.

Full list of 2020 program collaborators

  • Zachary Anglin, Lead Data Scientist, S&P Global
  • Steve Bowers, Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Apex Clean Energy
  • Wendy Brown, Cofounder, Community Investment Collaborative and Center for Nonprofit Excellence
  • May Casterline , Senior Data Scientist, NVIDIA
  • Kristen Chiacchia, Executive Director and Chief Curator, Second Street Gallery
  • Elizabeth Cromwell, President & CEO, Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Cailtin Dreisbach, PhD Candidate, University of Virginia School of Nursing
  • Miriam Friedel, Director of Data Science, Skafos, LLC
  • Tamara Dias, Executive Director, African American Teaching Fellows
  • Melani Douglass, Director of Public Programs, National Museum of Women in the Arts; Founder, the Family Arts Museum
  • Dierdre Enright, Director, Innocence Project Clinic at University of Virginia Law School
  • Alex Euler, Investment Director, Center for Innovative Technology
  • Tierney Fairchild, Cofounder and Executive Director, Resilience Education
  • Deb Fallows, Coauthor, Our Towns
  • Jim Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic; Coauthor, Our Towns
  • Harold Folley, Community Organizer, Legal Aid Justice Center
  • Harry Godfrey, Executive Director, Virginia Advanced Energy Economy
  • Patrick Harrison, Director of Artificial Intelligence Engineering, S&P Global
  • Eddie Harris, Parent Educator, ReadyKids
  • Tim Heaphy, University Counsel, University of Virginia
  • Ebony Hilton, Anesthesiologist, University of Virginia Health System; Health Director, GOODSTOCK Consulting
  • Tanesha Hudson, Community Organizer and Filmmaker
  • Roxanne Jones, Outreach Coordinator, City of Charlottesville
  • Denise Johnson, Supervisor of Equity and Inclusion, Charlottesville City Schools
  • Brian Kayser, Founder, Cville 1st Gen; Ph.D. Candidate, University of Virginia
  • Reggie Leonard, Associate Director of Career Connections & Community Engagement, UVA School of Data Science
  • Gail Lovette, Assistant Professor of Education; Research Faculty, University of Virginia
  • Kellye McKenzie, Managing Director, GOODSTOCK Consulting
  • Rochanda Mitchell, Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellow, University of Virginia Health System
  • David Murray, Executive Director, Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association
  • Stephen Plaskon, Associate Professor of Education, University of Virginia
  • Beverly Sweeney, Assistant Professor, General Faculty, University of Virginia
  • Renee Teate, Director of Data Science, HelioCampus
  • Erika Viccellio, Executive Director, Fountain Fund
  • Cameron Webb, Director, Health Policy and Equity, University of Virginia School of Medicine
  • Leigh-Ann Webb, Emergency Medicine Doctor, University of Virginia Health System
  • Devin Welch, Chief Executive Officer, SunTribe Solar
  • Kimberly Butler Willis, Managing Director, GOODSTOCK Consulting
  • Matthew Wheelock, Associate Professor of Education; Innovation Program Area Director, University of Virginia
  • Joseph Williams, Associate Professor of Education, University of Virginia

Inclusive Excellence

Their foundation prioritizes racial equity work, ensuring that equity goals and responsibilities within the organization are incorporated into work plans, hiring practices, board recruitment, and operational budgets at all levels.


  1. Web. Entrepreneurs turn the tables on local candidates at Tom Tom forum, Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow, September 25, 2013, retrieved October 3, 2013.
  2. Web. Tom Tom Founders Festival to highlight businesswomen, Aaron Richardson, News Article, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 2, 2016, retrieved January 2, 2017.
  3. Web. “White Flags” Art Installation Taken Down from Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, Tom Tom Festival, April 6, 2016, retrieved January 2, 2017.
  4. Web. Tom Tom fest to celebrate local food with special restaurant week, Aaron Richardson, News Article, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 9, 2016, retrieved January 2, 2017.
  5. Web. Tech, creativity keys to area’s future, forum participants say, Aaron Richardson, News Article, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 11, 2 016, retrieved January 2, 2017.
  6. Web. Fifth Tom Tom pitch night sees youngest-ever winners, Aaron Richardson, News Article, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 14, 2016, retrieved January 2, 2017.
  7. Web. Why Midsized Metro Areas Deserve Our Attention
  8. Web. In Oklahoma City the Tale of the Mid-sized City Turnaround
  9. Web. Coronavirus Moving City Future

External Links