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Babcock resigns from Folkmoot

fr babcockAfter being at the helm of Folkmoot USA for six years, Karen Babcock has resigned as executive director and is in the process of training her successor to take over by March 1.

Babcock sent out an email to Folkmoot board members Feb. 16 announcing her resignation.

“After much contemplation I have decided to resign from Folkmoot USA as Executive Director. It is simply time for me to move on to new opportunities,” she wrote. “I have truly enjoyed working with all of you, the staff, and hundreds of volunteers over the past six years. Your continued support of Folkmoot is so important, especially as the organization moves forward with new leadership.”

Rose Johnson, president of the Folkmoot Board of Directors, said the board was aware Babcock was seeking other professional opportunities. 

“We’ve tried to be ready for that, but it’s always still a surprise,” Johnson said about hearing the news.  

Johnson said the board has appointed Angeline Schwab to serve as executive director for the time being and will consider promoting her permanently to the position at its March meeting. 

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“We recruited a very qualified person to assist in increasing the depth of leadership in Folkmoot, and she’s interested and willing to step into that position,” Johnson said. 

Schwab has extensive nonprofit community and economic development experience in the creative arts, having served as the founder and executive director of Humboldt Made in Humboldt County, California, and most recently as the part-time marketing and annual fund manager for Folkmoot USA and consultant for HandMade in America.  

Johnson said Schwab is ensuring a successful 2015 Folkmoot USA summer festival while also revving up Folkmoot's momentum to become a year-round alliance with educational, cultural and economic impact far exceeding that of the festival. 

“In the near future, the board will announce Folkmoot’s expanded direction, and the new executive director will play a key role,” she said.  


Babcock’s contributions

During her Folkmoot tenure, Johnson said Babcock elevated Folkmoot's international reputation through the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF). Recently ranked as one of the top 10 folk festivals in the Southeast by USA Today and the only festival in North Carolina to receive this distinction, Johnson said Folkmoot USA has an annual local economic impact of about $9 million.

“Karen has been instrumental in increasing Folkmoot’s presence on an international level through the international folk festival organization,” Johnson said. “That’s pretty impressive recognition that speaks volumes about Folkmoot and positions the organization very well to be able to move forward without interruption.”

Babcock’s last day with Folkmoot is Feb. 27. She will be taking a little time off before starting her new position as general manager of Biltmore Industries.

Biltmore Industries is a historic organization started by the Vanderbilt family more than 100 years ago. What started as a woolen mills school to teach local people about creating fabric from wool, it’s known more now for the Grovewood Gallery and the Gallery of the Mountain located inside the Grove Park Inn. 

While Babcock said she has enjoyed her many years of working for a nonprofit, she is looking forward to a change of pace. 

“It will be a very nice change not having to fund raise every second,” she laughed. 

Babcock moved to WNC from Maryland, where she was the associate director of Ladew Topiary Gardens. When she started with Folkmoot, the board had about 40 members and committees were made up of only a few board members. She said she found the organization really hadn’t changed since its inception 30 years ago. Now the board has fewer members and committees include members from the community, which allows for new ideas to keep Folkmoot fresh.

“The community loves Folkmoot so much so it makes since they be part of it,” she said. 

In her six-year tenure, Babcock said she is most proud of the recent changes the organization has made, especially with the board restructuring and an updated strategic plan. Now that Folkmoot owns the Friendship Center and is working toward making renovations in order to offer year-round programming, Babcock feels confident she is leaving Folkmoot in a position to succeed. 

SEE ALSO: Folkmoot center renovation plans finalized

“I’ve been with Folkmoot for six years and it’s been an amazing time and experience. I’m very gratified with the movement the organization has made,” she said. “… I just feel like it’s a good time to let some new leadership come in.”

Babcock also feels like her replacement has the needed skills and enthusiasm to lead Folkmoot. 

“Angie has a wonderful skill set — she’s run festivals, she’s been an executive director of other organizations and she’s done events management,” she said. “She understands the myriad of details that go into it.”

Babcock said she would miss the excitement of Folkmoot each year, including when the groups arrive for the festival and when the volunteers start to appear. Her best advice for Schwab is to have fun and enjoy the process. 

“There are wonderful, amazing folks that have dedicated so much of their lives to Folkmoot. I’m blown away by the generosity of people at times.” 


Angie Schwab   

Schwab’s family relocated to Waynesville from Arcata, California, last July so her husband could take a job at Western Carolina University. She began volunteering with Folkmoot late last year and has been working for Folkmoot on marketing projects for a month.

But she is no stranger to the area. Schwab grew up in east Asheville and attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She and her husband, Brandon Schwab, met while both were majoring in geology. 

They both attended grad school in Eugene, Oregon, but Schwab received her master’s in public affairs while her husband went on to get his Ph.D. in geology. Before moving back to WNC, the Schwabs lived in Arcata where Angie founded Humboldt Made, a local, small business-marketing cooperative. 

“It started as a project of economic development through the local government that I worked for,” she said. “We wrote grants and ended up putting together an organization. We didn’t intend to do that, but I left my position with the county and launched Humboldt Made as an entity.”

Angie said her experience as executive director of Humboldt Made has prepared her for her new position with Folkmoot. She worked with a number of different small niche businesses, from recycled glassware manufacturers to craft breweries.

“We lived in a very rural part of California,” she said. “We were five hours from anywhere so we had to help these businesses get products to the markets.”

She also has a lot of experience planning large events, including the annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival that has been celebrated for 25 years in Humboldt County, and the North Coast Open Studios where more than 200 artists gather to sell their artwork.

She said the experience of helping develop the local economy, small businesses and the community has prepared her well to continue moving Folkmoot in the right direction. 

With two sons 11 and 13, Angie said she and her husband really wanted to raise them closer to family in WNC. 

“I want my kids to have a rich life and a strong community around them,” she said. 

She said that was exactly what she had found in Haywood County and through working with Folkmoot. Everyone she meets has had some kind of affiliation with Folkmoot, whether they’ve served on the board, volunteered or attended the summer festival. 

“That tells me that there is a huge commitment to make this organization and event a gem, and it’s not often you see so many people working together on something like that,” Angie said. “I can’t think of a better place for me and my family.”

She sees the potential for Folkmoot to be a cultural and economic incubator for the community, especially with the renovations planned for the Folkmoot Friendship Center. In addition to holding the winter farmers market at the center, Angie said the auditorium and stage would be a great place to showcase local and regional talent as well as larger acts already coming through the area to perform in Asheville. 

As interim director, she said her first priority is to have a successful summer festival by doubling attendance and ticket sales. Her second goal is to develop year-round programming for the Folkmoot center.

With new working committees in place bringing fresh ideas to the table, Angie is hopeful for Folkmoot’s future. She is currently meeting with all the committees and exploring different marketing approaches to attract a newer and younger audience to the 31-year-old organization. 

With eight to 10 groups booked for the summer festival, Folkmoot is in the process of planning a spring fundraiser on May 2 at the Friendship Center. The community event will include a maypole, beer garden, food tastings, live entertainment, kids activities and hopefully a large release of wish lanterns during the day.  

While this job was unexpected for Angie, she is excited about the opportunity to build on Babcock’s progress.

“Karen has left the organization in a really good state,” she said. “Most days I think, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this.’”

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