This past weekend, I worked at the Columbus International Festival at the Veteran’s Memorial in downtown Columbus. My Peace Corps alumni group, CORVA (central Ohio Returned Volunteers Association, a 501-(c)3 non-profit organization) has a booth there every year to talk about the Peace Corps – a volunteer organization that started up about 50 years ago thanks to President John F. Kennedy.
My Peace Corps friends and I love this festival because we get to tell stories about our time as volunteers to a whole new audience. Seriously – we never get sick of telling stories – like that time I was given what I thought was just a wad of newspaper that was actually someone’s dentures needing to be repaired… (no really – it’s true. I’ll tell you about it sometime.)
All the kids who came to the festival were given “Passports” to take around to all the different booths to get stamped. I liked asking them to say hello in a different language, or to ask me a question about the Peace Corps. I got a lot of hellos and a lot of great questions. One really young girl though gave me Hola and Adios thanks to watching Dora! Another girl gave me hello in three different languages! Yeah – I was really proud of her, though probably not nearly as much as her mom was!
The Columbus International Festival is great. In addition to having booths from all sorts of international organizations – clubs, educational groups, non-profits, etc, – it also has a stage used for music and dancing. While there on Saturday, I saw African drums, folk dancing, traditional dancing from India, bagpipes, etc. It’s fun as well because there are lots of booths selling food from all over the world, so you can grab your Greek gyro, Icelandic coconut cookies (yum!) and Indian mango lassi, then grab a seat and enjoy the entertainment.
Sounds like the symphony would fit right in, don’t you think?
Last May and June (and again a couple of times over the summer – and again in September…) I Emailed the good folks at the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to encourage them to set up a booth. I knew it was going on during a 3-performance weekend, but with staff, the Women’s Association of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra League and random volunteers such as myself…it should have been a pretty easy arrangement. They said no. When I followed up I didn’t get a response back. $175 for a booth and a weekend’s worth of communication with potential patrons who are totally open to different languages, music and culture. You could not find a friendlier, more receptive crowd and it would have been a great opportunity as well to not only sell the orchestra as a great arts organization, but also to really build the Email distribution / mailing list, but alas. They said no.
A fantastic opportunity missed.
I’ve recruited a few more friends to go with me to the Nov 16 concert where they’ll be playing Beethoven’s 5th. So while at the box office Friday morning picking up my tickets, I asked if they had any extra schedules that I could hand out at the festival. I was given two packets of them. (I’m guessing at least 50 schedules per packet?).
Saturday after my shift working the Peace Corps booth (and enjoying a delicious lunch!) I grabbed a packet and started handing them out. With maybe one exception, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.
No – they were ridiculously, enthusiastically positive!
The best way to describe it was that people were just hungry for information about the symphony. Arts organizations aren’t always known for their ability to market themselves. Some of that is driven by budgetary constraints but some is driven by just not being very good at marketing themselves. So – for the 100 or so schedules I handed out, I did my best to answer people’s questions and talk up the Symphony that I enjoy so much.
I’ll start with my one exception – which probably made me want to cry. Here’s what I was asked by a lady who happily took a schedule:
Oh, so does this mean the Symphony has started playing again?! They’re no longer shut down?!
Wow. I quickly dispelled that myth, but it made me wonder where the CSO actually advertises. I truly don’t know. And it’s 2013. The CSO was shut down for 6 months back in 2008! Why is it that people don’t know they’re back up and running again?
Well a couple of weeks ago, I happened to call the CSO and asked where they advertised. The next day, I received an Email in return that basically said that where they advertise depends on the series, e.g. Masterworks, Pops, Picnic with the Pops, etc, but it still didn’t tell me where. It still didn’t answer my question. So I sent a follow-up Email asking specifically about the Masterworks schedule. That was October 25 and so far, I haven’t heard back, but I hope to learn where because I know of Emails sent to subscribers and an occasional print ad in the Dispatch, but not of advertisements anywhere else. Hopefully I’ll hear back soon!
Columbus to Hungary, Scandinavia and beyond!
With that question out of the way, I ran into a ton of responses like this while handing out CSO schedules:
Ooh! I want one! Give me one, too please!
Keep in mind, I walked up to people and put these schedules in their hands. I didn’t just pile them on tables. Heck – I even went around the whole festival and gave one to (pretty much) every booth as well as telling each and every one of them that Beethoven’s 5th was coming up in exactly two weeks and that I wanted more company back in the rear balcony.
One lady early on called me over to her booth telling me that she wants a symphony schedule, too. Talk about serendipity! She was working a booth for a Hungarian organization. Why so serendipitous, you ask? I’ll tell you!
This Thursday, November 7 at 630pm at the Ohio Theatre, the CSO is putting on a free concert directed by none other than a Hungarian-born conductor, Maestro Gregory Vajda (which I learned is pronounced VIE-duh). The lady I spoke to, from Hungary herself, was very excited to learn that someone from Budapest was going to be conducting our orchestra not only this Thursday for a free concert (Free appetizers start at 530pm) but again in the Spring.
People were extremely inquisitive! They asked how to get tickets, when some pops concerts were going to be performed, whether or not certain composers were going to be performed – how someone missed hearing Carmen, to which I gladly let her know it would be performed in concert in May. And then another lady started talking about the who story of Carmen and all three of us got excited!!
Walking by the Scandinavian Club, (The Icelandic coconut cookies were awesome!) I was sure to tell how the CSO was planning to perform music by Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. And I told the German booth how Beethoven was coming up in two weeks.
It was so easy to make it appeal to them with such a multi-cultural selection of music on the schedule. And if I could do it, anyone could. I only reached about 100 people on Saturday during about a 20-30 minute time-span. (Unless there were 100 schedules in each of those packs and I hit up a lot more people than I thought I did!) Imagine how many people could have been reached had the CSO had a booth there both days. It’s not as hard as you might think. All you need are more schedules and a few more people.
People want to see you, CSO. They made that obvious. They’ve declared that – and it was very loud and clear this weekend.
Back in the Peace Corps office in Sofia, Bulgaria, this quote was on a poster. It says a lot, I think.
I’m just one person. I can’t do everything. I’m just one person. I can do something.
Now imagine what a handful or a lot of people could do. There’s power in that, you know.