Festivals and performances are a vital component of cultural identity and can support both community and economic development long after the event itself is done.
Festivals and Performances are, at their core, about community engagement. For Our Town projects that created festivals and performances, often the challenge was finding ways to reach as diverse an audience as possible.
For the Sitka Fest in Alaska, organizers tried to reach different audiences, “by sharing with the community a very wide range of activities that would allow a large variety of people to become interested and engaged.”
In Washington, DC, Dance Place created the Art on 8th public space activation project in a rapidly changing urban neighborhood. The fact that the area’s demographic was shifting quickly meant that they had to find ways to get the word out to both newer and older audiences, “We have found that, traditionally, many of our local families prefer printed materials such as postcards and large posters located on-site. To ensure that they receive materials, Dance Place has every-door drops, with materials going to every household within our zip code. With new residents to our neighborhood, specifically professionals with young children, we have found that the best way to communicate is online, particularly social media such as Facebook, Twitter and other sites/blogs/listservs.”
In Roanoke, VA, where the Arts in Parks project worked with many artists and arts organizations to bring performing and visual arts directly to neighborhoods by creating a series of concerts and arts-based activities in parks throughout the city. In this way, they looked to develop, “livable communities and engage neighborhoods not only as a method of building community and strengthening identity, but also as a way to develop new audiences for its arts and cultural organizations and to employ individual artists.”
As Our Town project organizers work to activate public space they often try to ensure that some or all of the festivals/performances are free and open to the public, thus requiring additional supporting funds from local, state, and national philanthropic sources.
To raise these additional needed funds, a few projects were able to take advantage of their project’s high visibility to raise local support. In Independence, KS, project organizers for the ASTRA festival were able to raise substantial donations for media advertising from a local business, and “a lot of in-kind services and staff support from local organizations.” Since they knew that much of their fundraising efforts were tied to local business donations, they closely kept track of ticket sales and tourism funds as they knew many donors would be most persuaded by those figures.
The ability to produce a festival or a performance is a very specific skill set that involves the coordination and numerous people, organizations, and logistics. The types of specific details that can emerge in any project range from issues such as where the public would use the restroom, to appropriate lighting for the stage, to creating a sound system, to the importance of advertising and beginning marketing early.
There is a great deal of infomation available from performing art service organzations like the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, National Performance Network, Theater Communications Group, Network of Ensemble Theaters, Alternate Roots, Opera America, the League of American Orchestras, Dance | USA, Chorus America, the First Peoples Fund, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures.
Independence, KS said, the greatest challenge for the project was “herding so many creative and energized people into the same direction in a timely manner.” Given the complex nature of festival/performance production, the project leads tended to come from organizations that are already producing this type of work.
For Dance Place in Washington, DC, it became clear as the project folded that their leadership in coordinating the events was essential. “We began to see more and more that Dance Place had the expertise and manpower required to carryout the outdoor programming [that was part of the project], including the marketing and artist services that we have learned how to do throughout our 33 year history of presenting. Given the capability of our staff, project partners and artists looked to us more and more to widen our role and serve as the coordinator of the other arts events beginning to unfold in the neighborhood”
At the foundation of many Our Town festival and performance projects was the dual desire to both “create access to high quality arts experiences and foster economic development” (Independence, KS). In Sitka, AK, project manager Rodger Schmidt discussed how they, “wanted to transform a bankrupt boarded up college campus that had sat empty and dead for 4 years into a place the community saw as essential to our economy and livability…By combining old programing and new programing and packaging it under an umbrella idea, our community and visitors were able to understand Sitka as a vibrant artistic, cultural, and scientific center.”
While other projects shared these goals they also included additional desires for how the events would influence their communities.
In Reedsburg, WI, for example, project organizers wanted to ensure that all dimensions of their Farm/Art D’Tour would help to encourage understanding and dialogue between urban and rural communities.
In Washington, DC, Dance Place saw an opportunity to confront the issue of gentrification. “Realizing that our neighborhood was going to face a dramatic and sudden influx of resident and businesses, Dance Place knew that we had to continue to brand Brookland as an Arts and Culture District that would be appealing to visitors and potential residents. Furthermore, we knew that there would be tension between the existing residents, many of whom were low-income and who had been in the area over multiple generations and the new, more affluent residents. In order to act as a bridge between the two groups, Dance Place's public programming served as a vehicle for the two populations the arts together through interactive performances and workshops.”
To measure their ability to meet key project goals, project managers often relied on their existing knowledge of program metrics, as performance organizations are used to working with metrics to evaluate their audience in terms of numbers and reach. In Washington, DC, project mangers already, “utilize audience surveys at all of our indoor performances to gauge how artists are received and the interest the public would have for similar types of art. [So it was easy to] also utilize surveys at the outdoor programs to collect feedback about elements of the project and suggestions for other programs.”
More information about evaulation is available on the "Project Process - Measuring Project Results" page.