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How to run a 'NOT a Festival'

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Looking over the two blogs on the idea of a Redfern event (March 21 2015) made me sigh - hope springs eternal when working with the community. 


The subcommittee members are all experienced in community management and consultation, and engaged but yes, you saw the word ‘subcommittee’...

Lesson 1. Seek to involve the ‘community’ in as many ways as possible but if the community is not cohesive or is in a state of change or has a range of political issues, it may prompt a disparate range of responses from individuals who may not be representative of any larger grouping.

Lesson 2. The community may not engage or notice you. The EO emailed survey to over 500 chamber members and those who had registered their interest but it didn’t generate a statistically valid or useful response. Maybe community members don’t understand what you’re trying to do; maybe they don’t care. Such is life; move on – but continue to engage key stakeholders.

Lessons 3. Less is more. A subcommittee of six – each with a specific ‘branding’ responsibility – was formed to address the challenge and work with the contracted event manager (www.corporatebutterfly.com.au) who had years of diverse, streetwise experience and has the phone number of everyone who needs to be known.

The BIG Challenge became: Defining What are we trying to do?

Good question! After two years of listening to strong, disparate views, it was easier to define and agree on what were weren’t going to do:

X    not a festival of any sort (cultural, music, food, street fair)

X    not a market

X    not a blatantly commercial experience. It had to have an inclusive feel.

X    not driven by the requirements of grants. We had missed dates for most government grants but we decided that could help us define an event that was different and didn’t have to meet the criteria of other organisations. And, of course, that saves writing acquittal reports.

So back to the dilemma: What are we trying to do?

We brainstormed possible words to fill the gaps:


We talked about ways to ‘get all those people and organisations doing great things’ together. There are businesses we know of and many we don’t. There are people moving into the area who have virtual 'micro' businesses and there are many cultural, arts and community groups. And let’s not forget there’s Souths Rabbitohs (winner of the 2014 rugby league championship) and that it is, and always has been, a multicultural community.

We also needed to get around the reluctance of small businesses, not-for-profits and charities to be known as a ‘business’. So we settled on ‘enterprise’. After all, our enterprises are all enterprising.

That helped us clarify our purpose – a celebration of local enterprise. We then banned the ‘F” word – ‘Festival’ as it suggests a passive recreation, not an opportunity to work to strengthen local enterprise. It was to be an ‘Event’. 

What does 'making an an event work' involve?

This was the question posed by the previous blog. It’s a challenging work in progress.

Since the event is about celebrating local enterprise, we’ve: 

  • Built the logo ‘Dreaming Beyond the colours of Redfern – a celebration of local enterprise‘ on the Redfern branding ‘Everybody’s Welcome’ which has been on display as street flags for two years. The 'colours' of Redfern suggest the diverse local cultures and the autumn leaves which, on cue, are starting to change into red and orange hues.
  • Given priority to locals who usually participate in community events (markets, stalls, performances).
  • Visited the retailers (cafes, shops) a number of times to encourage each to prepare a ‘special offer’ that will be in the program.
  • Created a Redfern Ramble – a food and wine trail – to cater for visitors who want to stay after 5pm or come and see the exciting new small bars and entertainment hubs.
  • Engaged a range of locals in various themed activities, such as Story Telling which sits well with our local indigenous story telling history and a range of enterprises/enterprising individuals.

While the day’s surplus will help a local youth enterprise, my task will be to determine economic contribution. We hope to be able to start to assess 'economic contribution': “This event brought an increase of x people to Redfern and enterprises generated a d% increase in revenue and spent y% on other local enterprises (via inputs)”. 

Join us on 21 March, bring your friends and spend more money than you usually do ... so that I have a good news story to tell about 'economic contribution' to motivate everyone for next year.


Two issues to consider:

1. How to ensure clarity of purpose… at every level

It’s important not to settle for the first idea. I gave the Story Tellers a quote from Broadway theatre director, Hal Prince: 


A corporate mentor I worked with - who, as an engineer was a natural problem solver - wouldn’t agree to a meeting until you had 10 good ideas. In the meeting you had to add another five. Then try to get to 30. On one occasion the ‘best solution’ was No 100 - some weeks later. Einstein recounted similar metrics (attempts to get it right).

2. How to challenge everyone to do that bit more

“We are creating an opportunity for you to show off what you do best. We ask you to produce a great idea or product - and step up a level - so that you generate new and loyal customers and grow your business”. That may sound easy but when everyone is working hard day-to-day, you need to support and motivate. 

Two questions to ask:

1.    How do you synthesise the broad or disparate views of the community into a concept that people understand?

2.    How to do you inspire the small enterprise sector (which includes business, not–for-profits that rely on grants and individuals who just do what they like doing) to step up to the next level?

Join us on 21 March in Redfern Park, for exercise with Souths on Redfern Oval at 11am and an enterprising day. Bring your friends and money with you! 

For education purposes only

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