Now A Word From Our Sponsors

Festivals being fairly expensive to run, especially with the vagarities of weather, Appel Farm has had sponsors for a number of years. At one time it was a bank, but now it is Comcast Cable with Target Stores sponsoring the Children’s Village.

There are some who don’t like the fact we accept money from the evil cable behemoth. I have to say in dealing with them that this is a case where the parts are actually greater than the sum. The festival doesn’t get its money directly from the corporate offices but rather through the local offices. The corporate offices allocate a certain amount of money to the local regional offices to distribute as they see fit. The amount the festival recieves is closer to the amount a theatre or ballet might receive from a production sponsor than the amount stadiums receive for naming rights.

The local folks are really wonderful to work with. They very cooperative and not at all demanding for attention or special treatment. The biggest problem one might say we have with them is that after sponsoring us for 4 years, ironically there is no cable service to Appel Farm. The cable stops a mile down the road which has meant that the intern house and summer camp staff has had to rely on rabbit ears to get any reception.

In return for their money, Comcast gets to put some banners up, places a big bus on the grounds where they distribute literature, has a couple people running around in Nickeloden and Cartoon Network cartoon character costumes and use one of our buildings for a reception. They also get a block of tickets for the event which they use to invite government officials and other they want to woo to the festival. These folks also get to go to the reception they hold.

They order whatever tents, tables, chairs and linens they need from the same tent vendor we use so we take responsibility for pointing out where these things need to be placed when the delivery truck rolls up and that is the extent of our involvement with the technical details of their reception. (Though there are about 4-5 meetings in the winter to review the previous festival and to hammer these details out well in advance of the event.)

Once the festival is running, they are really pretty low key. We only have 2 people assigned to help Comcast the entire day. One makes sure they have all the tables and extension cords they need, the other helps them process the VIPs they invite to the reception. In some regard the reception is almost an added bonus for the Farm because the executive and development directors have the opportunity to do a little lobbying of state lawmakers about the arts funding situation.

Last year they even did a documentary on the festival and recorded mini-concert/Q&As with 6 musicians for their programming line up. This year they are coming back to get a few more shots for the documentary because the rain last year didn’t make for the best representation of the festival.

All in all the relationship has been fairly productive for all parties. There hasn’t been any pressure brought to bear in order to influence artist selection. Other than some star struck autograph seeking, no one has thrown their weight around to get special access to performers or uttered an arrogant “Do you know who I AM!” Some of this is due to the atmosphere of the festival and the fact that the people who are fans of our line up aren’t usually the type that use bullying to get what they seek. The rest is just because at least this particular segment of the corporation is staffed by nice people.

Support Your Local Artist

Talking about how the community supports Appel Farm got me to thinking about how Appel Farm’s Festival lends support to the community. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of gas and food purchased locally though that is certainly an aspect of the support. One aspects of the mission to support artists is manifested in the free admission craft artists are given to the craft fair.

What this means is that the festival doesn’t take a cut of the money they make, nor do they charge the crafters an admission or registration fee. The artists take home whatever money they make. The craft show is juried however to ensure diversity in the offerings. The offerings have to be original works. Work created from kits or people acting as vendors for other people’s work is not allowed. As one might imagine, even with these restrictions, there are always more people applying than there is room to accomodate. (Only slots for 60 vendors.)

The wares cover a wide range of disciplines. There is a sheep to shawl demonstration (shear the sheep, card the wool, weave the wool), ceramics, metal jewelry, hand made musical instruments from around the world, weavings, paintings and blown glass to name a few.

Appel Farm also has a partnership with the Perkins Center for the Arts (perkinscenter.org). They built a wood fired kiln on Appel Farm’s grounds and they use it to create ceramics in their classes and Appel Farm’s campers get to fire their creations in it over the summer. As part of a grant program, artists are chosen to participate in the creation of works in the kiln (which is actually only one of three wood kilns on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard). There will be an open exhibit in the Appel Farm art studio so their kiln work may be displayed. If they want to sell anything, they must have a separate display outside so that the other artists don’t feel they received preferential treatment.

It may not be making a huge or immediate change in the lives and fortunes of these artists, but the free exposure and the support they receive from the festival certainly facilitates the process a little.

Community Festival Support

One of the things that is great about the Appel Farm Festival is the support it receives from the various local governmental agencies. The county road department mows the sides of the road for the festival and allows us the use of the snow fencing (granted, they store it on our land.)

The sheriff’s and state police are always very generous with their personnel. They enjoy the event because it is non-alcohol and the genre of music isn’t conducive to rioting.

The next township over lets us borrow tower lights so people can see where they are going when they return to their cars at night. Our township allows us to borrow recycling bins so we don’t have to buy or store them. (Though we certainly do clean them.)

The only negative has been that the police in the boro next door usually end up ticketing attendees as they pass through town. Granted, they always strictly enforce the 25 mph limit, but when you have 12,000 people attending, there is likely to be a high number of people to ticket. This has really just been the police making this decision. The mayor has asked them to give a little leeway in the past and it hasn’t worked. Recently, the trade off has been that the county places a digital sign showing a driver’s speed next to the big red sign that says speeding is strictly enforced. There haven’t been complaints of the boro being a speed trap in the last few years now.

All this support is the type of thing that is supposed to happen between an arts organization and it’s community. Granted, it helps in some respects that the center is located in a rural environment where you can establish some nice relationships. On the other hand, the surrounding community has always been a bit more conservative than the employees, campers and visitors to the center. Over the last 40 years, there has been some whispering about what people assume is going on 2 miles down the road.

Very few people in the local community volunteer or attend events at the arts center. That is changing slowly now because we have started offering afterschool classes for kids and adults in recent years. The honest truth is that people 10-50 miles away know more about what goes on at the arts center than those that live within 5 miles.

This is not to imply that the people nearby are uncultured, bigotted hicks. It is just that their interests haven’t aligned with what the arts center has offered until recently. Some of that might be due to the fact that more people who work in Philladelphia are slowly creeping into the area. And some of the current group of 20 somethings were the beneficiaries of the center’s school outreach programs in their youth.

There is also a deep running loyalty and helpful ethic to the local population. One year I was stopped on the side of the road putting up signs for the festival and no less than 6 people stopped to ask if I was having car trouble in the 20 minutes I was there. Last year, with all the rain we had, right around the end of the festival, a couple farmers and their sons came riding up on their tractors and asked the executive director if we needed help pulling festival attendees out of the mud (Boy did we ever!)

Some people may not totally understand what the arts are all about and may not be comfortable with what the local gossip says it is all about, however, they do know what a person in need looks like. To some extent it may be a relief knowing how to react and participate so they do wholeheartedly.

Augers Well

So for those of you who have never been involved in producing an outdoor music festival on 176 acres, harken unto my words. The Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival (www.appelfarm.org/festival/index.html) that I am working on over the next two weeks is all these things and more.

Last weekend, volunteers began erecting 375 stakes at 12 foot intervals across the main part of the grounds and attached snowfencing to it. This coming weekend they will be finishing the job. They will also be lending a hand trimming brush, painting the stages, folding towels, building temporary privacy walls, preparing the hospitality rooms, erecting signs, etc. If the volunteers auger well–drilling holes for the posts–we should be finished with all this around 3:00 as has happened in the past.

More people will come in during the day next week to help prepare the grounds with things that had to wait, answer the phones and fill volunteer packets.

Today, however, was spent planning how to best employ the volunteers. I will be going out tomorrow to begin flagging areas that need to have hole drilled, some of which will be done in cooperation with the box office because they have a system devised which makes the traffic flow more efficiently.

A couple years ago, I had to revamp the entire entryway layout in recognition of the post 9/11 environment we were operating in. We were already checking coolers, etc for alcohol because we are a non-alcohol venue. However, doing a more thorough check meant training screeners better as to how they could go about checking belongings. It also meant the process would take longer.

Many people arrive hours before the event so they can be among the first to rush to the stages and set up blankets close up. I essentially designed a large, secure waiting area where people could stand after they had been screened so they weren’t delayed when the mad rush for seating began. Unfortunately, this required moving the box office elsewhere and revising the pedestrian traffic a bit. The eventual result was a much more efficient system than we had before I think.

Another portion of the day was spent creating evaluation sheets for area supervisors. The festival itself requires about 500 volunteers and they handle almost every aspect of the day from security to stage crew to hospitality to garbage pick up. Veterans serve as supervisors of other volunteers and evaluate their performance so we can make decisions next year about who can be promoted or perhaps moved to a sensitive area and who we want to avoid having volunteer next year.

This system has really worked well over the years. When you are working with volunteers, it can be a little problematic when it comes to sensitive areas like security, stage crew and hospitality. People expect professionalism. This is especially true of the performers who certainly don’t want the crew sloppily handling their equipment or the hospitality people asking for their autograph.

One of the ways we have ensured quality is that we don’t openly solicit volunteers for stage crew and hospitality. Getting assigned to the area is by invitation only, either by the area coordinator or the Appel Farm staff.

One big problem that some festivals have that Appel Farm has avoided is the formation of cliques within certain areas. Some places, you have to know someone to get in any area other than parking or trash pick up. The job areas are often run like personal fiefs. Not only do you face expulsion if you anger the hierarchy in the group, but if you are in another area that depends on their help, you might find their assistance evaporates or is slow in coming as punishment for your offense. No matter that is makes the entire organization look shabbily run.

Since all assignments are ultimately processed by the permanent staff who tend to recommend people of their own for these plum positions, there is usually a mix between people who know each other really well from other festivals and people who know each other really well from working on other concerts at Appel Farm.

The vibe of the festival has really always been more about cooperation with each other and enjoying the day than jockeying for better positions. Last year I almost broke down crying with appreciation. It had been raining heavily for 6 hours and people were still showing up for their volunteer shift because they knew it was important for them to be there. I was extremely touched by their dedication to the organization and their promise to be there unconditionally.