Events And Building Regional Culture: Part 2

[Several people said yesterday’s original post was too long and suggested it be split into two posts. So it was. I try to take the advice of smart people…]

Modes of Community-Changing Events

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this two-part series, I took at look at how conferences, festivals and other events can positively benefit a region’s culture.

Today’s post looks at three modes of events which can change an area’s culture:

  1. A large scale event can bring in thousands of people from outside the city hosting the event, get hundreds of local people involved in putting on the event, and attract significant media attention.
  2. A small scale event can begin with less than twenty people, then grow into a large scale event if there is strong market demand and the event is managed well.
  3. Multiple small scale related events can create critical mass.

At times, event cofounders may initially envision high impact events and focus on that for an ultimate objective, keeping in mind the above three modes for achieving their long term goal. In other cases, the second or third mode may just evolve over time, either organically or because someone recognizes that small events are happening which could grow to have much greater impact than they are having currently.

Culture-Changing Large Scale Events

OlympicsIt requires big piles of money and other resources to create and execute a new large scale event which will change the regional culture, so the launch of a new event like that is rare. Creating that type of event usually requires the involvement of a government, large corporations or foundations, or very wealthy individuals.

An example of a large scale culture-changing event is the Olympic Games. The Olympics can cost the organizations hosting and supporting them billions of dollars, but they can also have a huge lasting impact on the regional culture.

A Wisconsin home-state example for me of a large scale culture-changing event is Milwaukee’s Summerfest, billed as “the world’s largest music festival.” As its website chronicles:

The vision for Summerfest was the brainchild of the late Mayor Henry Maier in the 1960s. Following a visit to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, Mayor summerfestMaier dreamed of a festival for the people that would revitalize Milwaukee’s downtown and bring the community together. In 1968, the first Summerfest debuted at 35 separate locations throughout the city…”

Because of the financial scope of launching large scale culture-changing events, today’s post won’t discuss this mode further, but if you look around or do a bit of research, you can find more examples of this type of event.

Culture-Changing High-Growth Small Scale Events

Small scale events can quickly grow into culture-changing large scale events if they address an unmet market need in one of the three categories below.

  1. Emerging technology.
  2. Emerging trends.
  3. High passion and high engagement.

A small scale event of this mode might organically grow larger through word-of-mouth promotion, through increasingly effective marketing, promotion and event management, or through increasing prominence or value of an emerging technology or trend. This type of small scale event may have first-mover advantage, its cofounders having seized the opportunity before anyone did, or it could be a follow-on event which does a significantly better job of serving the market need than similar events do.

In the same way that tech startup companies have impossible-to-guarantee futures, no one can accurately predict which small scale events will be high-growth and culture-changing. The ultimately successful events of this mode require timing, the confluence of multiple uncontrollable factors, and a good event management team.

Culture-Changing Multiple Small Scale Related Events

The mode of culture-changing multiple small scale related events is where intentional involvement of events wranglers can have the best chance of success. The previous two modes can be fun to be involved in, but having that opportunity usually requires a world-class resume or a rare dose of good luck. Getting involved with small-scale related events requires being in or moving to a city or region which has the population, industry cluster and other factors which support a variety of small scale related events. This mode of culture-changing small events is especially suited for:

  1. High-growth entrepreneurism.
  2. Nascent industry clusters, e.g. integrated circuits like in Silicon Valley.
  3. High passion topic for rapidly growing or highly under-served demographic when that topic also has significant mass appeal, such as music.

startup communities brad feldA great guide to helping change the culture of a region through multiple small scale related events is Brad Feld’s book about building entrepreneurial communities, “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.” Steve Blank, a highly-regarded Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur and academician, commented on Brad’s book, saying:

“…One of the most surprising (to me) was the observation that a regional community must have continual activities and events to engage all participants. Using Boulder Colorado as an example, (Feld’s home town) this small entrepreneurial community runs office hours, Boulder Denver Tech Meetup, Boulder Open Coffee Club, Ignite Boulder, Boulder Beta, Boulder Startup Digest, Startup Weekend events, CU New Venture Challenge, Boulder Startup Week, Young Entrepreneurs Organization and the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado. For a city of 100,000 (in a metro area of just 300,000 people) the list of activities/events in Boulder takes your breath away. They are not run by the government or any single organization. These are all grassroots efforts by entrepreneurial leaders. These events are a good proxy for the health and depth of a startup community…”

What Brad observed about building entrepreneurial ecosystems applies to other ecosystems with high potential impact, such as music, art, and emerging technology clusters.

If you’re an events wrangler who wants to be involved in events which can improve the culture and overall condition of a region, or if you’re a community leader or influencer interested in opportunities to improve the region you live in, consider being the spark that ignites a flame of opportunity. That flame may remain small, warming only a small part of your community, or it might be extinguished due to lack of fuel or oxygen. But the flame you created could spread, finding fuel in unexpected places and expanding to provide sustainable heat and energy to community growth and improvement.


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