Guide to Organising an Arts Festival

Holding an arts festival that provides your community with a diverse program of music, theatre, dance, visual arts, food and family events is becoming increasingly popular.
However, organising a festival takes a lot of planning and teamwork, so here are a few things you will need to consider to guide you in pulling together a truly creative ‘crowd pleasing’ event.

There are events and festivals held on most weekends, so it’s important to be able to answer this question: why should people go to yours? Being able to clearly state why your event is different (or better) from other events will help you establish a point of difference that you can turn into an event theme &/or ‘marketing hook’ to use to attract creative artists, event sponsors and crowds.
If your event is designed to showcase local creative and artistic talent, then focusing on this for your ‘hook’ will help you attract local business sponsors who may wish to be seen to be active in their community. Alternately, if your event is designed to simply promote the arts of specific segments of your community (such as Greek heritage) you can then more easily engage the creative artists and attendees with this cultural hook.

The next big decision to make is what role are willing to take you take on in organising the event? Will you be the manager, and if so, who will you be managing? If you are engaging a third-party manager, then who will, and how will you be working with them to make sure the event is a success? It takes many people and skills to plan and execute an arts event, so recruiting and assembling the right team is a priority that cannot be underestimated.
After you have assembled a team and allocated roles and responsibilities, then you will need to decide when and where the event will be held. Your local council will be of assistance here as they can let you know what sites are used for similar events, as well as what times of the year there are openings in the community calendar. It’s also a useful tip to remember to ask your council for their regulations on holding events, as well as for any advice and tips they may have.

After your event ‘theme’ has been decided on, your organising team assembled, and the date and location finalized, it’s time to start the search for talent to find the exhibitors and performers who will become your draw cards.
You can find talented, creative performers that match your event goal – whether that be celebrating the diverse artistic or musical talent of your community, or raising funds for a community program – by telling everyone and everyone about the event.
Most people know an artist of some form, a person in a band, and these people in turn are normally also connected to other creative artists through networking and community groups, so start by spreading the word the old fashioned way, by word of mouth.
Another great way to get the word out on your search for talent is to reach out to local art and music colleges and school to find performers or people to exhibit their work. Most artists will appreciate the opportunity to showcase their particular talents, and have the opportunity to sell their products alongside their displays.
Ensuring that you do your utmost to bring together artists in the same field or theme will ensure that most will feel comfortable being part of your event, whereas events that are a mad mix of music and other forms of exhibits can be unattractive for both potential artists and visitors.

Remember to use the hook for your event in all your marketing, through schools, community groups, local media, whatever you have at your disposal. If your festival team knows any celebrities, media contacts, or anyone with any measure of fame that can be leveraged, reach out to them. And if you have exhibitors or performers that are famous, mention them!
Most people are happy to give a shout out for community events that give back to the community, so don’t be shy. No point in pulling together a fantastic event that no one hears about or gets to see.

Originally published 10 August, 2011

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