(Air date: October 29, 2020)
Festivals and events, both across the state and the country, have faced difficult challenges in 2020. Whether it is canceling a community festival or creating a virtual event, organizers are making difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions. In this episode of Vital Connections on Air, Xinyi (Lisa) Qian discusses what organizers and community members can do to weather the storm.
In this special series, we are looking back on webinars and articles our educators developed early during the pandemic. We're revisiting these COVID-19 challenges and how they've changed our current reality.
“When the event eventually returns, hopefully next year, step up to volunteer.”
— Xinyi Qian
- Christy Kallevig, Extension educator
- Xinyi (Lisa) Qian, Extension educator and Tourism Center, tourism specialist
- Learn more about the considerations involved with festival and event management during a pandemic.
- Visit the Tourism Center’s web page to see a variety of resources and up to date information to support tourism across the state.
- Discover a variety of resources from University of Minnesota Extension to help you during these challenging times.
Read this episode's conversation below.
Note: Our Vital Connections On Air episodes are audio-based interviews. Written transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before referencing content in print.
Christy Kallevig: Hello, this is Christy Kallevig, host of Vital Connections On Air. We have been experiencing some really difficult things in the last few months, and we know that there are more challenges ahead. At the Center for Community Vitality, we have been working to bring topics and partners together through webinars and articles since the end of March to get you the information that you need. Now, I'm going back to those educators and asking them for updates and insights on what we should be doing in our current context. I'm sharing small parts from these long conversations over the next several weeks so that we can listen, reconnect with ideas, and hopefully take the next small steps.
Here is part of my conversation with Lisa Qian, Extension educator and tourism specialist with the Tourism Center, as we reflect on the tourism industry and the Covid-19 webinar series she led earlier this year.
Christy Kallevig: So I want to transition to a hot topic that we've seen on a very small level, all the way up to a very large level, and that is community celebrations. So thinking about my hometown and their small little celebration all the way to the State Fair being canceled for 2020
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: Yes.
Christy Kallevig: It's a really tough decision to make.
Christy Kallevig: So what are some of the factors that have been going on behind the scenes that I as just a community member may not be aware of, that our community leaders and officials have had to grapple with?
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: Sure, that's a very, very good question. And there is a long list of factors that are complex and intertwining with each other that event organizers must consider in order to successfully organize and implement a festival. And first and foremost is timeline. There are many festivals and events scheduled to take place in July or August that were canceled in May, and folks might be wondering, well, why can't you wait until July to cancel an August event? That is due to ... the first and foremost factor, is timeline.
For example, event organizers will need to arrange vendors and suppliers; they need to set schedules; they need to reserve space; they need to organize volunteers. All of these are time-sensitive, especially when we talk about a larger-scale festival. For example, the Irish Fair of Minnesota opens in August. And organizing for [the] Irish Fair, that preparation starts shortly after the New Year, and so putting on a successful event or festival usually requires a very long lead time, and so that brings me to some of the other important factors, for example, the labor availability.
A lot of these are festivals and events rely on volunteers, some of them may be run completely entirely by volunteers, so if volunteers do not feel comfortable being out there doing the volunteering work, then there will be no labor available to assist the festival organizer to make the festival happen, so labor availability is a very crucial consideration. And also sponsorship; many events or say, festivals, are able to break even thanks to sponsorships.If major sponsors no longer have the capacity to [provide financial aid for] a sponsorship or they do not feel comfortable sponsoring any public gatherings due to the pandemic.
Once you lost major sponsors, then financially, it will be incredibly difficult, which obviously naturally brings us to financial considerations. Organizing a festival event does incur lots and lots of expenses. So for example, you might contract with a company to set up and tear down your event venue or event site. You'll need to book entertainers, for example, and you may need to rent portable restrooms and disability-friendly portable restrooms and for all of these you may need to have a down payment at a certain time, so then we are hearing the inaction between timeline and the financial, both factors. So these are just a few of the factors that event organizers have to consider.
Christy Kallevig: And I assume that there's also probably some liability concerns as well as you bring a large group of people together, they're thinking about the possibility of community spread and how that may negatively impact how people think about the community and the event itself, right?
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: Yes, and oftentimes, especially in a context of the pandemic, it is not always clear how much liability an event has to take on if an attendee were to contract Covid-19 while attending the event. We do not always see clear guidance on that either, and also more fundamentally, if there are executive orders or legal orders that do not allow events or say, public gatherings beyond a certain number of people, then as long as the order is in place festivals and events beyond that size cannot happen. So that certainly is all related to loss and liability.
Christy Kallevig: And I think that one thing is that as a community member, you take such great pride in that event and hosting it and attending it and running the 5K that you've run for the last 10 years or something like that, but as we as community members are hearing about events being canceled, first off, I think probably not blaming the planning committee and being angry at them for the decision would be the first thing that we can do to be a good community member. But what are some other things that we can do to be supportive of that planning committee and recognize the work and time that they put into the decision, as well as thinking ahead to making a really good event the next time around?
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: I really have the urge to repeat what you already said. That is event organizers are the persons who put on these events. Sometimes it is not exaggerating to say it breaks their heart to cancel the event, it will be really helpful for local residents to let event organizers know that even though you may not agree with the decision to cancel, you will still support and you will support event organizers in making the best decision possible. If you have any constructive suggestions and feedback for moving forward, graciously let event organizers know. They will definitely appreciate it.
And so when the event eventually returns, for example, hopefully next year, then if you are able to step up to volunteer to help, event organizers [will] know that you will show up, you will be there to support and help when the event comes back. Also in your conversations with friends and neighbors or family members, gently educate about factors that all go into planning and operating a festival or event, so that folks may not always necessarily know all these complex of factors behind the scenes, so we can all use some education so that we know it is really a very complex process.
Lastly, let's try our best to find new ways to celebrate, to socialize, maybe even to create new traditions.
Maybe we document it, we may write it in your diary, and so when we look back, it is our little piece of very unique history, we are living a historical time, we are ends together, we all want to be constructive. We understand the sadness, the let-down, the disappointment, even the anger, but we also want to move forward and we want to maintain hope, and so let’s help each other together.
Christy Kallevig: I love that, and I think you're absolutely right. Stepping up to volunteer, because maybe losing out on this event this year made you realize how important that is to you, and that might be what spurs a whole new group of volunteers to come and breathe some more life into the event the next time around. That's a great idea.
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: Thank you, thank you.
Christy Kallevig: Are there things that event organizers can do in order to make sure that they are sharing the reasons behind the decision better or just the process so that it creates more community understanding and trust?
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: Yes, yes, I believe so. I believe there was a space for the event organizers to communicate some of our factors, they have to consider when they make a decision about canceling or postponing and be transparent, and communicate in a very clear and a very ... I believe, gracious way. I think eventually residents and attendees who very much look forward to the event will understand.
Also, I think for event organizers to be ready for disagreement for resistance, because this is also an opportunity to educate the community, educate local residents about the work that goes on behind the scenes in order to put together in an implement a festival, again, respond graciously and be professional, keeping in mind or that when people voice their disappointment, even anger, that's because they care, that's because they so look forward to the festival or event. I think it takes both sites, event organizers to communicate, very coolly.
And also for community members to support and to step up in a volunteer down the road when the event can take place again, for us to move forward together, and then also if an event has a board, I believe this is also the time for board members to pull their weight. It is trying for board members to support event organizers, to help event organizers to make their decisions. Board members also need to communicate about decisions to the stakeholders and to local residents, to the community.
Christy Kallevig: Communication, communication, communication. It's just key when you're dealing with things like this.
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: Yes, yes, indeed it is. Communication itself is also a process.
Christy Kallevig: Oh yes, absolutely. One thing that I would really like to end on is in... I can't remember which webinar it was...but you use the quote, “Everything you do now will be remembered,” and I thought that that was very true. What are some small things that you would encourage our listeners to do now so that those decisions will be remembered as we move into the next phase of our world?
Xinyi (Lisa) Qian: Sure, not to toot our own horns, but I am tooting our horn…so the Bell Museum of Natural History is actually a part of the University of Minnesota, but of course, like the University, it is very much a public entity. It communicates very clearly, and I would say I was a very appropriate frequency, not too much, but not too sporadic. Made it clear the first week is member-only, they appreciate members, which I think is fair enough, and also they have changed operation days and times, also communicated those very clearly and also highlighted why they made a decision to re-open and what they are going to do to enhance the safety and a cleaning protocols and actions, because the museum had so many different parts and activities laid out very clearly.
So I think from the big decision of whether to re-open or not and when to re-open and at what capacity, these are very fundamental decisions to the decision to reserve the first-week full members only and to operate at a 25% capacity and have a phased re-opening. So I feel like this is a very good example in terms of decisions made and a communications done that certainly, I hope has left a positive mark or say impression, hopefully on a majority of its guests and stakeholders, so I think this is a very good example.
Christy Kallevig: Thank you, Lisa Qian for this conversation. To see all of the resources available from the tourism center, visit www.extension.umn.edu/community-development/tourism. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on new research and resources for communities and those who lead them.
We hope that you will join us for our next episode of Vital Connections On Air. And please stay well.
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Reviewed in 2020