steAmfest

Essex Junction, VT

Contact Name
Kristin HUmbargar
Project Dates
2018 steAmfest: Sept 21&22
Tags
Placemaking/placekeeping, Event, Downtown preservation/main streets
steAmfest is an annual Arts and Innovation festival that has just been produced for the second time.
Over 2 days the Village of Essex Junction becomes a destination for experiencing the STEM fields through the lens of Art and Art through the lens of STEM. With a long history of innovation within Essex Junction, steAmfest was designed to help the community reimagine possibilities and see it self anew as a destination for arts and culture, a walkable village, an community interested in and supporting the arts its emerging creative community and creative economy. At one time seen as an improbable or little understood event, steAmfest has captured the heart of the Village, as beacon for a new was of seeing and appreciating expanding possibilities
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
In year one and two our specific goals with steAmfest were to reawaken awareness in the community of the Village of Essex Junction to the many teaching and learning opportunities available here which have been embedded through local businesses and schooling institutions. We desire to foster a new appreciation for the potential intersections between the Arts and STEM concepts through an Arts and Innovation festival. We hoped to help create a new lens for possibility of economic and community growth through making room within the existing infrastructure of the Village to support creative community and build creative economy. We hoped to produce an experience of fun and engagement for the local and more rural populations who would be drawn into the event that would help shift the ideas of what is possible and available in Essex Junction.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Our goals have changed from producing an event that postures that the Village of Essex can be an destination point and arts district to include actively engaging a creative community and the municipalities to begin to envision what having an Arts and Culture committee could do for community asset mapping and strategic planning for the Essex masterplan. Our goals for 2019 are to reach further into the community of arts and innovation to seek collaborations with secondary and higher education institutions, engaging students and showcase innovations. We also seek to build a stronger team of residents to actively work with us on steAmfest and create more opportunities for creatives throughout the year, as pop ups, workshops and studios
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Those involved over the last 2 years have been several local volunteers, individuals who have worked a remarkable number of hours to support the project through logistical planning, web design and maintenance, fundraising and media marketing. The Village of Essex Trustees, have voted to support the festival and authorized street closures and allocations of sponsorship funds, access to public works for support and connections with police and fire for safety. The Town of Essex economic development committee one time sponsorship for the development of the festival as an economic development strategy. Many VT state artists and musicians who have participated as vendors or entertainment during the festivals. Local businesses, and corporate sponsors who have supported us through in-kind donations or financial contributions ranging between $100 - $2500.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
As has been stated earlier this festival has been a spark for the community and the Village municipality to begin to consider how arts and culture may factor into the overall strategy of revitalization of the downtown Village of Essex and potentially for Essex Town itself. steAmfest has proven that the Village can be a walkable arts district, and emerging creative community. It has demonstrated that artists can successfully relocate and start studios and business in the underutilized or recently vacant spaces. It has proven the curiosity and hunger of the local community for arts and culture experiences. And has awakened a potential new vision for the future of the community and infrastructure
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Projects and places that have inspired the project have been ArtHop, an arts and business alliance sponsored festival that has happened in Burlington Vt for the last 20+ years. Train Hop a village sponsored attempt to engage community in a village walk during the annual tree lighting. Artist markets and co working and co creative spaces that are community development oriented.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Decision to dive into the belief we could produce a festival with ZERO experience
request of municipalities for seed money to sponsor the event, and permissions to hold a street festival
relationship building with local businesses and public service spaces for sponsorship or use of brick and mortar spaces to host art or artists.
website design and maintenance
call to artist and musicians
logistical planning for artist to vend/hang work or perform
social/media marketing and hunting down opportunities for promotion
fundraising and development asks (no grants have been applied for to date)
volunteer coordination
art walk festival setup/management
artist market set up
breakdown
return of art walk art

Serious post festival decompression time.....
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Between our first and second years we have learned the hard way to document everything in order to avoid reinventing the wheel, year and again. We have begun to create a How To manual for steAmfest so that we limit organizational forgetting as people move in and out of their ability to contribute each year. Generally the steps become easier as we know the investment of the community in the event is growing stronger. It is easier to make the asks for sponsorships and contributions. We have a relationship with the public works and businesses so that we know what to expect and they know the asks. I am sure that as our experience grows and changes we will continually adjust to undulating landscape.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Belief.
A community who has never seen before this type of event or engagement is very reticent to jump on board. When we initially pitched our ideas we heard frequently that people didn't really understand what we were trying to do. Even some of our early adopters who worked with us to produce the steAmfest 2018 became unnerved by the process and suggested that we abandon the event because of too much uncertainty.

Shoestring Budget.
we really really really had to bootstrap the first year festival, putting a lot of strain on those who volunteered to be super industriuos with the small budget we had. We learned ALOT about how to make a lot out of almost nothing.

Loss of contributors.
when key people in the organizational team leave, you see the gaps between what you thought was happening and what is actually happening. People don't always reveal all that they are contributing or not contributing automatically. So keeping really good documentation of all steps needed to run this type of event becomes organizationally critical
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
GRIT
A willingness to engage with uncertainty and failure.
An "in it to win it" attitude with a team that is not willing to give up.
A willingness to rapid prototype and learn from imperfection
A deep appreciation for the artistic process.. and understanding artists perception of time
BELIEF that it will all come together with a lot of work
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Start early.. Logistical planning requires a lot of time and communication

Develop a team of people who BELIEVE in what you are doing and who understand artists and immediacy

ASK ASK ASK for what you need or what you want. At almost every turn when you ask, people what to help or contribute in some way.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
The project is strategically connected to the arts and culture activities to social, economic and cultural issues in our community by engaging local artists and musicians as well as inviting others into our community, which has no dedicated spaces to house host or support them in an ongoing way. It has revealed the economic opportunities with in the community in ways that shows that the Village can have a creative population that also impacts the local economy by encouraging festival, artist market and studio events. And it has revealed the desire of the community to have more options available for engagement through activities, and entertainment locally. It also has begun to open up opportunities for this community to see other possibilities and populations as valuable through the arts.

What is different is that this community has begun to see the potential for being "the kind of community that can have nice things" and that looks forward to this event year after year because "this is the kind of thing we need to have more of for our kids". We have also seen a shift in willingness for the municipality to engage in deepening conversations about investment in having an arts and culture plan for future consideration of how this sector impacts growth, funding and infrastructure.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We consider the project a success because people come out for steAmfest, they enjoy themselves, are exposed to the intersections between creativity and innovation, they have a shifted lens about what is possible, and are opened up to a new way of looking at the intersections of art and the process involved in discovery, innovation and creativity.

This community is beginning to see the possibility of itself as an arts district, or at the very least as a potential destination vs. a drive through town. It is also a success because we have begun the deeper conversation about how to plan for Arts and Culture in the Village with buy-in form leadership as they think about economic development and planning for masterplanning.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We have measured success by putting together a survey for all of our contributors: Artists, Musicians, sponsors and and public. We aggregate this information to help make improvements to the experience and gauge effectiveness of our specific intentions.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Trust
Our community seems to trust our ideas. We are strongly encouraged to continue our work, because people are hungry for opportunities and improvement. We also think that because we produce what has seemed to many to be impossible it gives other the courage to try new things or to show up in support of the work.