By all accounts, yesterday’s Festifall was a resounding success. Carolina Blue skies, comfortable temperatures and a diverse program of activities beyond vendor-provided art brought folks out.

This is the second year I helped organize the event as a member of the Town’s Festifall planning committee. Starting Spring, the committee’s duties revolve around brainstorming activities and entertainments, providing logistical support to Parks and Recreation and working on the big day.

Last year, I arrived at 5:30am and left at 8:00pm. This year I only made it to 5:30pm. While quite fun, it can be a long day of lugging equipment, setting up venues, marking booth locations (my specialty), cycling around booths to help folks, and, essentially, being an adjunct gofer for regular staff.

My duties the last two years have been fairly broad but my main portfolio has been soliciting and managing the community group area – Willville as last year’s committee dubbed it.

Why Willville?

When I joined the committee in 2010, there was a serious discussion of removing the community element entirely from the event. Some art vendors had apparently complained about sharing a wall with peace protestors, environmentalist, mental health advocates and other “pedestrian” community groups. A few attendees complained that they didn’t come to Festifall to have broader community-oriented issues thrust upon them.

This was an art event, by god, and whatever might detract from sales should be eliminated!

Festifall, with the cancellation of Apple Chill, is the sole remaining Town-sponsored multipurpose event. Carrboro, who we often look to for community participation inspiration, routinely makes room for community organizations – often putting them front and center – at their events.

This is a community-sponsored event – an excellent opportunity to showcase Chapel Hill’s diverse community interests and creativity – why wouldn’t we want to be more like Carrboro in our emphasis?

In 2010, in a bit of a Pyrrhic victory, we maintained the community program at the cost of segregating the majority from the main thoroughfare. Like the displaced of Hoover’s 1920s, pushed back along the fence line, not quite out-of-sight, these groups access to Festifall’s visitors is greatly diminished.

I was a bit of a bear of the subject in 2010, to the point that the committee started to joke that the ghettoization was akin to creating a new Hooverville which they dubbed “Willville”.

That joke carried over this year as I continued to vigorously lobby on behalf of expanding the presence of our local community groups.

For all the good-natured joshing, I’m happy to be associated with “Willville”.

With that in mind, I have a few after-the-event suggestions for next year’s committee:

  • Mix community groups in with the rest of the crowd. We found room for sponsors, the local fire and police departments, a few Town programs – let’s make these groups first class citizens of the event.
  • If it’s deemed too much of a hurdle to integrate the groups into the broad milieu, at least let them setup on the curb instead of being pushed to the rear.
  • Reduce the fee for these groups. $100, $85 or even $65 can be a real obstacle to some organizations. $50, at the most, seems reasonable. Yes, that means revenue will be down as prime spaces which could rent for $100 (or more, given the nasty budget mess Chapel Hill has) but the event has been cash positive the last few years. A few lost bucks to support our community is a good trade-off
  • Remove logistical impediments which make setup and teardown more difficult for these groups than everyone else.

I have really enjoyed working with local residents, Town staff and community groups on this event. The committee, working with a very receptive events planning staff, has down an excellent job diversifying the event – showcasing Chapel Hill’s interest in dance, music and the culinary arts.

In a couple weeks, we’ll have a debrief of the day and work to build on our successes. If you attended the event and have suggestions, please leave a comment.

Kudos to all the great volunteers, the staff and committee of Festifall.

Be Sociable, Share!