Feature Article - January 2006
Find a printable version here

Festival Fundamentals

Six habits of highly effective special events

By Stacy St. Clair

Let someone else stand in the spotlight

A festival's success sometimes relies upon the local recreation department's ability to stand in the shadows.

In Naperville, Ill., for example, the Exchange Club sponsors Ribfest, a nationally renowned summer event. Though most residents know the organization's role, few realize the responsibility shouldered by the local park district.

District officials work year-round with organizers to ensure the festival goes smoothly. The effort is so intensive, district employees dedicate about 1,300 hours each year to the event.

"We provide them with as much support as they need," says Michelle LaScola, district program manager.

A point person meets monthly with the steering committee, bringing any concerns, questions or critical information back to the district staff. Parks officials, who provide similar assistance to other festivals during the year, help Ribfest organizers address issues such as security, risk management and logistical operations.

The district staff also serves as an invaluable resource on the venue because officials know the location of every electrical line and irrigation pipe. This prevents problems—for both sides—from occurring during the festival setup.

"We have everything they need to know," LaScola says. "They need to work with us, and we need to work with them. The event is better because both parties are involved."

The Exchange Club, which donates proceeds to drug- and child-abuse prevention, pays the district for some assistance such as park police time. The district, however, provides most of its services at no charge.

"It's a community event, and it helps a good cause," LaScola says. "Why wouldn't we want to help this group?"

The attitude serves the district well. Despite their Herculean efforts, parks officials rarely receive credit or acknowledgement from the public. Most residents believe the Exchange Club, which does an amazing job of running the festival, pulled it all off.

If the district staff resents its underappreciated role, LaScola says no one has given voice to it. Instead, parks officials take silent pride in helping to throw such a well-loved festival in the community.

LaScola understands frustration can arise, but she recommends recreation managers focus on what matters most. In the end, the event is more important than limelight.

"Try to keep a positive attitude and an open mind," she says. "You don't vocalize [feeling underappreciated.] That's part of doing business. At the end of the day, it's for a great cause, and that's what's important."