Creating Events That Have Impact

Arts festivals have a way of making real impact and change on the sociological landscape. The International Shalom Festival, for example, has helped change the narrative in Scotland, by eliciting the public support of all three main political party leaders. The 2017 International Shalom Festival grew from a one-day event in 2016 to a three-day expo which brought 40 Israeli artists to the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival. 

In January 2016 the festival was only an idea. So how did it become the grand scale event that it is today?

If we don’t know where we are going, any road will do.  The key to successful event planning is having a clear vision. A team needs to be gathered, one that is conscious of the vision, commanded by it and committed to it. This should be played and replayed with cheerful relentlessness. Our vision was to have a crowded venue full of happy people enjoying the exuberance and diversity and richness of Israel’s culture: music, food, drama, craft, dance, literature. And that is exactly what we got.

The team needs to be motivated to realise the vision. It needs to be led by either a charismatic or competent figurehead, and ideally both! Small teams work best. Meeting frequently but relatively briefly tends to create more impact. Members need to communicate, cooperate and coordinate. We found that a WhatsApp group worked very well.

Many different skill sets are needed, but the most crucial skill is matching existing skills to a need. We divided up these needs into categories: artistic direction, executive functions, music direction, catering, security, PR, hospitality, accommodation, volunteers, and put a member of the team in charge of each remit.

On the tech and marketing side of things: We made sure we had an attractive logo, secured an illustrious patron, set up a Facebook page and off we went.

Our small team of 10, which we never called a committee, were all unpaid and gave enormous amounts of time pro bono. If any of us had charged the market rate for professional services there could never have been a festival. Some expertise had to be bought in: web design, PR in Israel, technicians, but apart from that, and one performer insisting on a fee (never work with someone’s agent!), this was a voluntary labour of love.

Love is central. We cannot give what we don’t have to give: people united by love for achieving a noble cause will stand up for each other. You will never hear a bad word against each other and be able to move mountains together. In our case, we wanted to be motivated by the only thing that would overcome the hatred of those who had driven out Jerusalem’s Incubator Theatre from the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe: ahava (love). Love for what is good, decent, worthy. Such a spirit is irrepressible, will catch and carry others in its brightness, and sustain through the inevitable times when there are sharp edges and it seemed like we would never get there. But we did.

One factor that we needed to devote more time to was fundraising. If you have someone who loves doing it, is good at it, or really wants to learn how to do it, then great. But we didn’t. This is one reason why Jewcer is so important, because it can carry much of this burden in an effective and attractive way. Money gives you so many more options, and this is why we have asked Jewcer to help us for the next International Shalom Festival later this year.