To say Culture Days in Mission B.C. was a success would be an understatement. With the town hosting 44 registered Culture Days activities and a population of 38,833, Mission is ranked nationally as having the 5th most activities by population according to a National Culture Days Top Ten report. Here's how they did it...
How did the organization of Culture Days in Mission unfold? Who was the main community organizer and when did the coordination process begin?
Newton Enoch: Our city has a Cultural Resources Commission that helps organize Culture Days every year along with the District. Val Billesberger is the chair of the CRC Culture Days Task Group that facilitated the creation and administration of most events in 2017. It was a long time coming, this group had been planning for over 6 months!
Val Billesberger: Using the same organizational model used last year – the establishment of a Culture Days Task Group – the planning, coordinating and marketing was undertaken by members of the Cultural Resources Commission. Members included myself, Newton Enoch, Sue Grass and two members of the community who had never been involved before: Marilyn MacDonald and Joanna McBride. Our first meeting was held in mid-spring but we hope to start even sooner for next year!
What, in your opinion, is the benefit of holding Culture Days in a smaller town and how, in the case of this year, did it work to your advantage?
Marilyn MacDonald: In a smaller town, you can have focal points easily accessible by all the residents. In our case, we had three hubs, two of which were in the more rural areas of the city, but easily accessed by the whole community. Next year, we’re looking to reenergize the third hub, which was located in downtown Mission, to be advantageous to merchants in terms of business.
Newton Enoch: The main advantage of being a small town, in my view, is seen in the participation rate per capita. As it is a tight knit community of art and music lovers, I believe that most people wanted to see MANY events. With the hub format, it made it easier, and fun for participants to engage in more than one event.
Sue Grass: I don’t really think of Mission as a small town anymore. Mission is fast-growing small city, and events like Culture Days serve to introduce newcomers to our burgeoning local cultural scene. I think sometimes people might think that as a small city, there might not be as much going on here, but there is actually a LOT happening. Our challenge as organizers was to persuade groups to register pre-existing activities or to shift their activities on the calendar to fit into the Culture Days weekend. Given the more than 40 activities registered, I think we did a pretty good job.
Val Billesberger: I believe there are several advantages to holding Culture Days in a smaller community. People in a small community are more connected with one another. These personal connections create a special kind of synergy whereby people are more likely to participate in and attend Culture Day events. The connectivity of the community was especially exciting to watch during the Culture Days weekend.
As you mentioned you used hub locations to host a variety of arts, culture and heritage activities at the same location. How did you come to decide that this was the best approach and did this strategy work for you?
Sue Grass: The District of Mission covers a huge area, and last year we found ourselves driving from one side of town to the other and back again, so grouping activities into hubs made a lot of sense. Plus, it made the hubs seem more like festivals, and as you may already know, Mission loves festivals!
Val Billesberger: After reading about the concept of “location hubs” on the Culture Days website, I brought the idea to a meeting with the Task Group and it was enthusiastically supported by everyone. Mission comprises a large land area with distinct historic communities within its boundaries. Hubs allowed us to achieve a number of things; the most obvious is that it allowed us to concentrate the majority of activities in non-competing hubs in order to encourage and increase attendance. Hubs also allowed us to focus attention on some of Mission’s historic communities, such as the Fraser River Heritage Park and Steelhead, which showcased our cultural heritage. In addition, hubs brought people to areas of Mission where they had never been before and, for me, that was a real bonus. The strategy was a great success, this year we had record attendance at some hubs! We are planning to use this organizational model again in the future. Personally, I think it is the best way to organize Culture Days festivities.
How important is planning activities and Culture Days programming in advance?
Marilyn MacDonald: Very important. The more advance notice given to groups, the better. The longer you have to put out advertising, the larger the audience it will reach. Having the events — or at least a good portion of them — nailed down early gives the sponsors more time to develop ideas. Having the events on the national listing is a good selling point for groups who are wavering on whether to participate or not.
Sue Grass: A lot of our activities in 2016 and 2017 came together at the last minute, so it can be done… For Mission Culture Days 2018, however, we’re going to start planning almost immediately. As an all-volunteer effort, we can use the extra lead time.
Newton Enoch: Planning in advance makes the promotion and community involvement so much easier. As this is a volunteer labour force, it is essential to be focused, clear and prepared.
Val Billesberger: Incredibly important. One of the things I did this year was to take the opportunity to find out from some of our “late registrants” the best time of year to contact them about Culture Days. I discovered it was the month of December! I will be meeting with some of our 2018 hosts next month. In addition, I have already approached the owner of the publication What’s On Mission magazine and successfully booked the front page of the fall issue to feature an image from 2017 Culture Days at no cost. Finally, I am going to meet with Downtown Business Association about how they can host and support Culture Days in 2018. Busy times but exciting times indeed!
What would you say was the impact on Culture Days in the community? Do you think Culture Days in Mission will change the amount of public participation in the arts? Do you think the event successfully raised awareness about arts programming around town.
Sue Grass: I think this year we reached a sort of critical mass in terms of awareness, and more people sought out activities. This is the year Mission Culture Days broke through the noise. It’s such a friendly event too, so people feel comfortable taking part, trying new things and joining in. As people make connections, they find out more about the creative opportunities around town. There is already quite a good public participation in the arts here, but more is always better!
Marilyn MacDonald: Culture Days definitely raised awareness in the community; that awareness will likely spawn more participation and more appreciation by those not involved in arts and culture.
Newton Enoch Culture Days most definitely increased awareness about arts in Mission. I heard many people tell me "I always knew we had artists in Mission, but wow, I didn't know we had all of this". I have already seen the public ask me more questions about ways they can get involved at many levels.
Val Billesberger: I think this year we definitely built momentum for people to start marking Culture Days on their calendar. Another thing of importance is that Culture Days served as a vehicle for artists to make new connections with one another and the public, while location hosts had the opportunity to discover new clients to use their facilities.
What was your favourite Culture Days activity that you attended in Mission this year?
Marilyn MacDonald: It was a toss-up between literary arts-readings by authors and the Roots and Blues festival.
Newton Enoch: So hard to say… I really enjoyed the Opening Ceremonies at the Xá:ytem site. I also very much loved the Night of the Living Choir and the Roots and Blues Festival at Fraser River Heritage Park.
Val Billesberger: It was definitely the Steelhead Community Association Hall, where attendees could indulge in multiple arts and culture activities, ranging from architecture and dance to visual arts and music. This eclectic “taste of the arts” experience definitely left me wanting more.
What's next for Mission?
Marilyn MacDonald Building upon this year's successes…. encouraging more groups and individuals to participate and promote their trade.
Sue Grass: More, more, more. Lots more to come.
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