Events And Building Regional Culture: Part 1

Events Reflect Or Build Regional Culture

Events have two relationships with regional culture.

  1. Events reflect current regional culture.
  2. Events help build a regional culture.

First, events reflect the existing culture of the area. If there are well-defined and active ethnic groups, industry clusters, or other demographic segments, those dominant characteristics of a region usually have critical mass. Events related to those facets of an area get started because so many people want them, i.e. obvious market need. And they keep going because so many people attend or participate in them that their value is evident, and there are large numbers of people who volunteer to work on the events or who can be asked to help with them. If the event generates a profit, its value and reasons for continuing are all the more obvious.

Second, events can help build a regional culture. This is the twist which I think events wranglers can use as a worthwhile incentive.

Outcome Of Culture-Changing Events

culture shift 1As documented by the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community study and discussed in a University of Minnesota’s article about community festivals, there can be valuable benefits and high impact from community events which transform a stagnant or declining region into a vibrant, growing, and resilient one. Those benefits and impacts include:

  1. Boosting the economy.
  2. Fostering community pride.
  3. Offering opportunities for social interaction and citizen caring.
  4. Increasing civic involvement.
  5. Teaching new things.
  6. Strengthening relationships.
  7. Building social capital.
  8. Improving quality of life and regional resilience.

The University of Minnesota article described one of the social benefits this way:

social capitalA third social benefit of festival sponsorship is stronger relationships within a community. Most of the relationship-building occurs in the festival planning phase. This is where the bonds among public and private organizations, government, and neighborhood groups are forged and where connections among elected officials, staff, volunteers and interested residents are made. Assuming everything else goes well, the payoff to this relationship-building is a successful festival. But the benefits last well beyond the event, as people bring their connections and collective knowledge and skills to improve the community. Connections are the “glue” that hold communities together; without them, a community stagnates and the quality of life declines. Experts call this glue social capital, so viewed through this lens— festival sponsorship increases the social capital that makes for healthy communities…”

Motivated, Proactive And Persevering Individuals Are The Key

proactive individualsNew events that build community culture usually start with one person or a small group of people seeing value in the event, especially for themselves and like-minded people. One person can be the key to a new large scale event being launched, especially if that person is highly influential, e.g. highly connected to relevant people and resources, wealthy, highly regarded in their field, or in some other way able to bring attention to the new event they are supporting or developing. This highly influential person can convince other people and organizations to support and get involved with the new event, enabling it to become successful and grow in impact.

Smaller events, such as those within community organizations and groups, can be initiated by less influential people because of the smaller scope of the event and the decreased resources needed to plan and execute successful events of that type.

Regardless of whether the new event starts out small, with only five or ten people, or springs into life with hundreds of people at the initial gathering, the cofounders of the event need to be motivated, proactive and persevering. Motivation is required because no one will create an event if they don’t have some type of personal interest in seeing the event launch and succeed.

Proactivity is critical! Many people think or talk about events they would like to participate in or see happen. Those thoughts or conversation range from “we should get together sometime” or “that was so much fun, we should get the group together again soon” to “wouldn’t it be cool if our city (or our interest group) had events where we could meetup with like-minded people or learn from and share with each other!” But most people never move beyond the casual thought or informal conversation. It takes a proactive person to move that idea from a wish to a reality.

Finally, perseverance is required because life in 2016 in most of the world puts many more demands on people’s time than they can meet. It also offers way more opportunities than they have time to even learn about, much less participate in. In addition to the time and attention challenges, change is hard, so people and communities are likely to ignore, decline to allow or be involved with, or actively discourage or prevent new events. For those new events to happen, to be successful, and to be repeated, their cofounders must persevere, working through challenges, disinterest and delays.

In Part 2 of this two-part series, I’ll discuss three modes through which events can change a region’s culture.


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