art installation of annual festival lights event planner guide

How to Plan a Large Arts Festival in 1 Year

Alyssa Perna has over a decade of event operations experience for leading multinational business-to-business conferences, festivals and trade shows, press conferences, large-scale fundraisers, complex social events, and more. She is the founder of Experience Events, the Managing Director of Ingenuity Cleveland, and the lead instructor (and tutor!) for QC’s Corporate Event Planning Course. This is Part 1 of the Festival Planning series documenting Alyssa’s experience planning IngenuityFest!

I recently left a full-time job to work part-time for Ingenuity, a local non-profit. Unlike for-profit companies, a non-profit organization advocates for a particular cause such as education initiatives or animal rights.

Founded 15 years ago, Ingenuity is an arts and cultural organization in Cleveland, Ohio. Ingenuity’s mission is to ignite the creative spark where the arts, science, and technology intersect. They do this through IngenuityFest!

festival artist showing off light and fire play

IngenuityFest is an annual arts and music festival with a new theme each year. The festival draws close to 20,000 attendees over a 3-day weekend. Musical, theatrical, and dance acts perform on the festival’s six stages. Besides stage performances, there are a plethora of maker activities, artist installations, small businesses tabletops, food trucks, and booths with community partners.

Becoming the Managing Director for Ingenuity Cleveland

I have a lot of event management experience, but I’ve never planned a large-scale festival. Luckily, my team is small but mighty, and we have a large group of passionate volunteers. Without them, we wouldn’t have a festival!

Our organization is comprised of an Artistic Director who develops the vision of the event. Having a hand at realizing the theme, art installations, and creative projects. Our Marketing Manager writes compelling content, coordinates media partnerships, and designs our marketing collateral. I joined the organization to provide event planning and logistical support, from budget management to developing corporate partnerships, and more. But our duties went beyond our job descriptions. Often, we wear many hats to achieve the big picture—pulling off an awesome community event!

Many wheels were already in motion when I joined the organization back in August. When I joined, the Artistic Director had already met with various departments at the City of Cleveland. I quickly learned that there is a ton of paperwork and permitting required to host a large-scale festival.

Obtaining All the Right Permits

outdoor festival goers with beer and liquor

The Division of Special Events issues special-use permits for large-scale city events. An event of our scale requires multiple permits and paperwork approving us to legally operate our festival on city grounds.

For example, our festival footprint must be reviewed, modified, and approved by the fire department before we have permission to operate. We must apply for Ohio’s F2 liquor permit, designed to allow no-profit organizations to obtain temporary liquor permits to sell or serve alcohol at special events.

With permits, timing is of the essence. If you miss one of the many deadlines, you’re out of luck, and you can’t host your event! Want to see how intense the city approvals and permitting can be? Check out the City of Cleveland’s large-scale event planning guide!

Coordinating the Team

As you can imagine, putting on a large can’t be done by only a few staff members. In order to function and operate at a reasonable capacity, we contract local rockstars who help us coordinate bands, live performances, artisan vendors, food trucks, art and other elements of the festival.

For example, we have an amazing volunteer coordinator who is tasked with recruiting, assigning and training over 300 volunteers throughout the festival! She has many years of media, volunteer, and non-profit management experience. We trust her to execute the role with minimal help and supervision from our staff.

outdoor music festival stage with audience

Beyond this, we rely heavily on our volunteers to design and execute large-scale art installations. We have a group of volunteers called the “Ingineers” who meet weekly and contribute to creating many of the festival’s art installations. They use one another’s tools and talent to be successful. It’s a truly fascinating community of creatives who enjoy collaborating to produce these works of art.

Attend Weekly Meetings

For many months, the core festival planning crew has met weekly. In the meetings, we discussed recently completed tasks, what’s left to do, and what planning aspects need extra attention and help. We discuss challenges and key initiatives to keep the project moving along.

Beyond weekly meetings, staff members talk daily to coordinate activities and lend a hand where it’s needed. Daily tasks consist of a wide range of odds and ends:

  • showing a vendor their space
  • selling corporate sponsorships
  • making bank deposits
  • picking up a trunk full of 35,000 granola bars
  • filling a pothole

And so many more tasks. Each day brings a lot of variety and a lot of fun.

meeting for event planners

A Few Weeks Before the Festival

My first six weeks at the organization flew by! I had plenty of things to get done. Now, we’re less than 2 weeks away from the festival, and the countdown begins!

Every minute counts. Right now the festival grounds are cluttered with art installations; artists are working hard to put the final touches onto their pieces before installing them. We’re getting bombarded with calls and emails from vendors and festival-goers who want more information.

We’re finishing up the festival guide and map, advertising the festival all over Northeast Ohio, putting the finishing touches on signage, collecting collateral needed from corporate vendors and so much more. It’s chaotic, but so much fun.

Have you ever planned a community event? Let us know your experience in the comments!

To learn how to plan a festival yourself, check out QC’s Festival and Live Events Course!

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