We are delighted to present the first draft of our festival toolkit, designed to allow new places to get on board easily. It takes you through the basic elements of putting on a festival and links to various practical ideas that have been used so far.
Values: The aim is to put on a festival which involves as many people in the community as possible and which focuses on our relationship with the Earth, to build a strong awareness of our dependence on the Earth as one great and powerful living system and to celebrate the diversity of the natural world. This is an opportunity to do something different, so don’t feel any obligation to follow other types of festivals. Spend some time as initial organisers thinking through how these values will work out in your festival.
Timeframe: It is best to start planning six months before the event. This could be just a few of you. Decide which group will be the responsible body. Check with their insurer. Ensure permission from landowner. Get in touch with as many local groups as possible who may like to play a part and get a sense of what they would like to do. Develop specific ideas for events at the festival and make any necessary funding applications. Expect the team of volunteers to build as you get nearer the event.
Communication tips: Work social media and get a sense of people’s interests. Plan posts leading up to the festival. Get articles into local magazines, each with a specific focus of interest. Work through local organisations especially schools. Near the festival, put up posters around the area. (Make sure to take them down afterwards.)
Involving the whole community: make sure to aim events at all ages. You could do both adult bird walks and ‘family’ bird walks for example. Creative nature arts projects can be signalled in advance and can bridge age groups. Competitions can create momentum towards the festival. You could include some more serious or mediative adult-oriented events with some much lighter fun-type child-focused activities. Remember children do attract parents!
Creativity: As in any ground-breaking initiative, the arts can help us see the world in new ways. Dressing up, parades, music are all useful. Spot the creatives among you. They will have ideas for workshops.
Funding advice: Have a clear funding strategy. There is no need to take risks with money. It is better to do a smaller festival and build your reputation. Doing festivals at local level should not need a great input of funds. Try not to make funding your goal. It can consume immense energy and distract from delivering on your values.
Policies and procedures: As the festival draws near you need to plan the day in some detail. Go through your timeline and your map to consider when each contributor is arriving and who is meeting them. It can be helpful to mark the position of the stalls. Each incoming contributor, especially if they are paid, would normally carry their own insurance and have policies and procedures relating to their input. Ask to see these in advance. This leaves the festival organisers simply to develop more general policies and risk assessments for the day and to cover the unprofessional inputs like the tea and cake stall or leaf or a locally run workshop. A general community insurance policy would normally cover this. Your local authority may have general rules and guidelines about food provision.
General advice: It gets easier once you have done it once! Festivals have momentum. Community memory is a real thing. This means that repeating your event the next year will be easier, because you know what you are doing and your volunteer base is likely to be stronger. Here are a few tips about the process as it worked out in some of our first places to put on a festival.
The process as it worked for Emersons Green, Bristol, England
We are a ‘Friends’ group focused on our local park. We are a voluntary association with an ongoing volunteering programme, a Facebook Group, a bank account and insurance. We identified an area of the park we wanted to use and a date. Decided to avoid elements that might cause difficulty, so no loud PA systems, no bouncy castle, no alcohol. Applied to our local council for permission on that basis. Permission granted easily. Only issue was survey of ground where large spikes need to be driven in for stretch tent. Worked out that you can hire a Cable Avoidance Tool for the purpose.
Looked for a grant specifically to pay for the large stretch tent. Recognised the need for security over the weekend it would be up, so included that in the cost.
Began a trawl through various authorities and funders to support particular events. Support for ecologist built on earlier successful work in this area. Arts contacts produced other elements. Our strategy here was to book against a grant. No grant, no booking, that way we were not taking risk.
Musicians offered their services on a variety of bases. Some needed paying professionally, others would work for tea and cakes and everything in between. Payment rates were kept confidential. We tended to go for an international theme for the music, so as to emphasise our concern for the whole world. We contacted the primary schools to perform songs on a nature theme.
Our local team grew and people committed to various roles on the day. One person ran a competition associated with vegetable art for the children. Another volunteered her considerable skills in making art from natural materials. We contacted various people who specialise in home-made crafts. We assembled a team around the parade, to collect flowers, make headdresses, plus stewards and hired a professional leader figure in costume. We put together a communications strategy based on our Facebook group, a local magazine and posters.
We planned the day in detail using a timeline and delivered the festival to plan. Our tea and cakes stall represented our profit on the day which we have used to build up our reserve for future festivals. The weather in England is a variable we cannot control and our most recent festival did suffer from some rain, but we worked through this and most things were still able to happen.
The process as it worked for Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada
1. One individual in the community became inspired by reading Chris Sunderland’s book “ Imagination is the Key: To Unlock the Environmental Crisis”. This led to the creation of a draft proposal, outlining the Vision for a Festival, the rationale, proposed dates, activities, audience and prospective partners.
2. This proposal was forwarded to a number of local groups whose mission is to work in some respect with nature. This included a Botanical Garden, an ocean-based agency, a Nature Trust, an Arts and Nature Centre, and the local Indigenous tribe. An online meeting was called (still in pandemic mode) to discuss the proposal and gauge interest in moving forward.
3. Based on the interest, it was decided to partner with the Arts and Nature Centre for the first Festival, since their facility could accommodate the numbers we expected, and they had a relationship with the local schools to invite the students to participate .
4. A date in September was chosen for the Festival, close to the Equinox, and during the week as opposed to the weekend. This allowed the schools to send their students.
5. The Arts Centre chose to exhibit artwork during the Festival, that depicted the Earth in all its majesty, while identifying the tenuous relationship between humans and our planet.
6. It was initially intended to hold the Festival over the course of one day, with students coming during the day, and adults in the evening. A hurricane however intervened, and the date was rescheduled, requiring us to separate into two days: students one day, and adults the next.
7. A schedule of activities and workshops for the Festival was developed, invitations were made to workshop facilitators and marketing materials were created. A media release was sent to the local newspapers, and brochures and posters were put up around town and sent to email distribution lists.
8. The benefits of partnering with the Arts and Nature Centre were many:
- An established space and centrally located
- Existing relationships with schools, workshop providers
- Grant money available to pay honorariums to workshop providers
- Access to large data base of members for marketing
- Administrative assistance in setting up and organizing
9. It was important to have this relationship with an established organization to get the Festival off the ground for the first year. Now that we have one event behind us, we would envision broadening the organizing team to include more groups and individuals, and moving the Festival outside with the use of a tent. Scheduling it on a weekday allowed students to come with their schools, but it would also be beneficial to have parents and children come together, which would mean a Saturday or Sunday.
10. The key as we learned, is to start with what you already have, whether that be an existing group of keen individuals, or a keen organization. Don’t wait for the perfect time or circumstance, it will evolve. The planet can’t wait for us to ‘get around to it’, it needs us to start now!
Some specific ideas for events at festivals
These are some specific resources that have been used. Take a look. Some you may like, others will not suit. That does not matter. We are keen for local people to design their festivals as they want to rather than producing any sort of blueprint. We will be keen to record here some of the things that you do. So let us know.