Festivals, Events & the Pandemic Pivot Workshop

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Community festivals and events often become intertwined within a community’s cultural fabric. As a direct result of COVID-19, many of these festivals and events were canceled leaving communities looking for a way to fill those voids. As we move into an uncertain future, community festival and event planners are wondering what their options are and how best to serve the community.

On November 4, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (PRTM) at NC State University will hold a virtual workshop, Festivals, Events & the Pandemic Pivot. The workshop is being coordinated and hosted by Recreation Resources Service (RRS) & NC State Tourism Extension.

City street full of festival festivities and people.

NC State students enjoy Packapalooza on Hillsborough Street. Photo by Mark Dearmon

The workshop will highlight the adaptations, innovations and protocols different communities and festival planners have developed to continue their events in some capacity throughout the pandemic. These events have provided their communities with opportunities to celebrate their culture and identities as well as support local businesses and entrepreneurs at a time where celebration and local business support are essential. The half-day virtual workshop will include a keynote speaker as well as expert panels. Intermittent throughout the day will be opportunities for small group discussions.

RRS, a partnership between the NC Division of Parks and Recreation and the PRTM Department at NC State, provides continuing education and technical assistance to parks and recreation departments and various other constituents. Webinars are a common educational tool RRS throughout the year. Director, Charlynne Smith, stated “We decide on our topics based on feedback from professionals in the field, and festivals and events was certainly a topic that has come up repeatedly since the pandemic started.”

Jenn Beedle, RRS Central East Recreation Consultant, emphasized “Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, those in the field asked– Should we cancel? Postpone? Over the course of spring and summer, some did cancel; some did postpone. Yet, others found ingenious ways to make sure the celebrations could go on, safely, for the community and to a degree, visitors.”

People on rides at the NC State Fair.

Fairgoers enjoy the rides at the NC State Fair.

Tourism Extension seeks to provide programs, resources and assistance to Extension Agents and tourism stakeholders across and beyond North Carolina to enhance equitable and inclusive tourism strategies that nourish community development and resource conservation. Department Extension Leader and the Principal Investigator on the RRS hosting agreement, Erin Seekamp, explained “The Tourism Extension office recognizes the challenges facing tourism destinations during the pandemic and the important role that festivals and events play in not only attracting visitors but also building a sense of community. This event highlights how tourism and parks and recreation programs mutually benefit communities.”

The keynote speaker for the workshop is Scott Feehan from Festival International de Louisiane. Feehan will lead an interactive discussion regarding lessons learned while creating remote festival experiences for both the festival in April and most recently the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles this month.

“Aside from incredible music another huge draw to the festival is food, we are in Louisiana after all. A truly special part of hosting the event was the way the restaurants bought in immediately.” Feehan says of the April festival “This was great because we had a short 3-week window to get it all mapped out. And the community responded more than we could have imagined by supporting the festival, music, vendors as well as the local restaurants across the city.”

Downtown bicycle event.

Cyclists finish a race downtown in a small community.

The day will also include two panels one with representatives from various Parks and Recreation departments from around the state and another panel with representatives from a Tourism Development Authority and festival directors. “We felt it important to bring different perspectives to each panel. But also, to gain insights from those festivals that are getting creative,” Beedle explains.

“We hope attendees will gain a clearer understanding of the important role festivals and events play in communities. We want planners to be able to identify creative ways to engage communities and visitors in festival planning. Our goal is to offer tools and connections to explore ideas and collaborations that fit their communities’ needs,” Smith says of the webinar.

“This is the first co-sponsored event between RRS and Tourism Extension,” says Seekamp, “and it was made possible by the creation of a new Extension Associate position held by Ann Savage. We are really excited to have Ann join our team and envision more collaboration with RRS in the future to extend the impact of both offices and better serve NC.”

Those interested in attending can visit Tourism Extension Events to register. If you have any please email Ann Savage aesavage@ncsu.edu or Jen Beedle jjbeedle@ncsu.edu.