Concept, Collaboration, Communication and Contest: Michigan Story Festival

Concept, Collaboration, Communication and Contest: Michigan Story Festival

© Yvonne Healy, 2006. All rights reserved.
Storytelling Magazine, National Storytelling Press, TN 2006.

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Imagine 782 people attending a festival in its 1st year.
Count over 1,800 people in the 2nd year.
Seat nearly 1,700 people in the 3rd year.
Fantasy” you say. “No, “ I reply, “innovation.”

Four years ago, in the midst of lush Midwestern farmland a small city, a university and a tribe decided to transform their quiet home into a cultural destination. On October 19-21, 2006 the partnership will produce the 4th Michigan Story Festival in Mount Pleasant. Affordable lodging, a weekend chockfull of topnotch presentations and easy access by car attract audiences with story lovers from in-state and beyond.

In three short years, the Michigan Story Festival has become Michigan’s second largest storytelling event following the nineteen year old Jackson Storyfest which serves 7,000 attendees. Like many festivals, Michigan Story Festival celebrates stories from various cultures in performances and workshops at multiple sites.

So what’s unique?

Innovation #1: Concept

The answer is implied in its title “Story” festival. It is not “story-Telling.” By showcasing the power of Story in multiple art forms the Festival grows its own audience. Stories are presented through action, image, sound and thought.

Only 37% of the first year’s presentations were spoken word narrative (a.k.a. storytelling.) But that percentage grows apace with the audience’s developing interest. People who normally bypass storytelling events are lured to the Festival by other arts. Exposed to the magic of oral narrative they are charmed, returning each year for storytelling. By its third year, 60% of Festival presenters were the storytellers Carmen Deedy, Rex Ellis, Laura Simms, James Bruchac and Robyn Henry. Story also emerged through classical piano, literature, photography, historical interpretation, Renaissance music, mural painting, North American folk music, Celtic music and dance, mime, Indian dance, cinema and cooking.

Innovation #2: Collaboration

One innovative concept only stretches so far. Producing two days with 14 performances, 2 workshops, 6 lectures, 3 exhibits and 1 contest requires significant commitment. Volunteers log more than 6,000 hours. The 22-person planning committee meets year-round with 1 full-time salaried administrator and 1 student intern.

It also requires deep pockets. The planning committee uses their business plan and committed pursuit of funding to support a sizeable budget. Ticket income is negligible since most presentations offer free admission. Soliciting in-kind donations like the website eases the way for organizations to participate. But even that’s not enough.

Collaboration between distinct communities is the second innovative idea. Town, Gown and Tribe unite in this Festival. The partnership between the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the City of Mount Pleasant and Central Michigan University results in an ongoing dialogue very attractive to the National Endowment of the Arts, the Michigan Humanities Council and private, corporate and community foundations.

Innovation #3: Communication

Promotion fills seats. One-third of the budget goes to telling people about the Festival. Professionally designed brochures, posters and flyers are distributed in the tens of thousands. Banners crisscross city streets, media ads are purchased countywide, announcements appear in blogs, online calendars, newsletters for churches, synagogues, libraries, senior centers, guilds, schools and hospitals while speakers visit cultural, alumnae, professional, social and civic clubs.

The Festival stays in the public eye year-round through its fourteen additional pre-festival events. Some are fundraisers with popular acts like The Smothers Brothers; others are outreach performances in the surrounding area. The local hospital brings storytelling to an atypical population by hosting each year’s final pre-event. On October 19 the Sleep Disorders Unit is home to “Dream Tales and Bedtime Stories.”

Innovation #4: Contest

“A Taste of Story” Recipe Contest is the 4th innovation. In 2005 applicants from four states submitted recipes with matching written stories. Finalists’ recipes were prepared by Technical Center foodservice students. Local chefs rewarded winners in 3 categories. Recipes and stories appeared in an enticing Festival exhibit. The winning dessert, “Puppy Chow”, was served at the Closing reception. A cookbook may someday return income to the Festival. For now the Contest engages imaginations far and wide in Story and in the Festival.

Why not see for yourself how this magic works? Don your apron, perfect Aunt Susie’s strudel and book your motel for October 20-21 in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. You’ll enjoy balmy weather, Bobby Norfolk and friends, foot-tapping tunes and a banquet of Story in the arts.

October 19-21, 2006
Michigan Story Festival
(989) 774.1885
Central Michigan University
129 Moore Hall
Mount Pleasant, MI 48859
Lodging: Mount Pleasant Visitor’s Bureau

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