I met with a board member of the Moorhead Business Association last week to discuss a very cool addition to the upcoming Frostival, the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau’s winter festival that premiered this past January.
Their idea is to hold an event where working artists, sponsored by businesses, create fabulous pieces of temporary snow sculptures.
New idea? Nope. But it’s new for us.
Attend St. Paul’s Winter Carnival, now in its 131st season (www.wintercarnival.com), or head north to Winnipeg to be part of their epic Festival du Voyageur, in its 47th season (festivalvoyageur.mb.ca/en). With more than a $1 million budget and close to 40 corporate sponsors, it’s easy to see how Festival du Voyageur has grown to attract more than 91,000 visitors, 23 percent of whom are from outside of Winnipeg.
Can you imagine the economic impact of those kinds of numbers? Yes, actually we can imagine it because of a loose analysis done by a North Dakota State University researcher when Garth Brooks came to town last spring for four concerts.
With 80,000 people in attendance, it is estimated that about $16 million was spent in the metro, and that doesn’t include the price of the tickets.
It’s exciting to think that we might be engaging the professional arts community in this festival this year in a more direct way. But do you know what’s not exciting? Thinking about how difficult it will probably be to find sponsorship dollars.
I run a nonprofit, so I know how hard it is to introduce new programming mid-year to what is often an already stretched-thin budget. But sometimes ideas present themselves and you have to just say yes, hoping that the dollars will follow somehow.
I also know what it’s like to try to create brand-new programming from an understaffed organization. I don’t know a person working in the nonprofit sector who says, “I just wish I had more to do to fill my workdays.”
Frostival is just an easy example of public events that fall short of having the important impact they could have because it’s hard to secure significant dollars for new programming.
But what is this important impact?
Well, let’s see. If you have lived in the metro for more than five months, you know that winters here can be brutal, and even a mild winter is not the kind of climate that compels people to be outside enjoying their community.
Frostival changes that.
Frostival worked hard last year, and is working even harder this year, to make sure that they created some programming that was family-friendly, free, accessible and spread across the metro. They also hired bands to play, had fun food and drink events and generally created a vibe that was engaging and decidedly NOT the “winter stinks” attitude that most of us generally have about our longest season.
So that’s great, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about bringing in potential employees during Frostival to show them a positive winter experience in our metro. It’s about changing the local one-liner, “There’s nothing to do here,” to “Cool stuff happens here!” It’s about finding ways to meaningfully engage all the citizens of the metro, encourage tourists to visit our fair cities and create events that help people who aren’t from here begin to see us as more than winter and road construction.
But Frostival isn’t the only community event like this. What about the concerts at Bluestem Center for the Arts? Corks and Canvas? The Studio Crawl?
There are so many great events going on in the metro, and many of them are very affordable, welcoming of families and could really serve the larger issues of employee attraction and retention and community-wide engagement, but they all need better support to do that.
It’s not enough to have a bare-bones budget. What all of us who create events that matter for the community, both from internal and external perspectives, need is significant sponsorship dollars that allow us to hire staff, to adequately promote the events and to dream big enough to create impactful programming for the community and beyond.
That’s when the arts will be able to show they are serving the needs of the metro.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, September 19, 2016, issue of the paper.