Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival

Summer in Ann Arbor. It’s the time of the year that reminds all of Ann Arbor’s residents why they live in a place where there are 9 long months of winter. Among a wide variety of unique, and fun activities, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival stands out year after year as an event, or rather a series of events, that never fails to disappoint. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) has been running for more than 30 years, and is home to the nearly 80,000 patrons that attend some part of the festival each summer. Such a large organization has faced countless changes and challenges throughout its existence, but it has managed to stay strong as a key part of the local culture that is Ann Arbor.

With the summer festival upon us once again, I had a chance to speak with Amy Nesbitt, the Executive and Artistic Director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, about her take on why the summer festival is such an incredible timeless and important tradition in Ann Arbor.

What do you do for the A2SF?

Nesbitt is in her 10th season working for A2SF, and as the Executive and Artistic Director, she oversees all event volunteers and staff, and the general logistics of the entire event: “Artistically it’s my job to fulfill our mission in a financially responsible way.” She started working for the A2SF in 2007 as an operations manager. Since then she has helped book bands, launch the acoustic stage, create the retreat wellness program, and really just helped expand the entire festival. She and her team spend most of the year fundraising, but “...80% of what the organization does happens in an 8 week period that’s full of crazy moment to moment decisions.” While it is tough and demanding during those key summer weeks, she explained to me that it has become, “ pastime as well as my job, I love arts and culture.”

What are some of the most challenging parts of the A2SF?

Funding. The A2SF is a 1.3 million dollar organization, but 90% of the events are admission free for its patrons, which means that the money for the events needs to come from somewhere. That means, that when her staff isn’t booking performances, and directly planning events, they are planning fundraisers, applying for grants, and talking to donors. “People are amazed that we can do what we do with so little funding. Luckily our donor base has been growing because of the generational aspect of Ann Arbor. To us, it’s not the amount in someone’s check, it’s the fact that in their charitable giving they decide that the summer festival is worth giving to.”

Why is the A2SF so important to you?

After only talking to Nesbitt for 30 minutes, one thing was extremely clear: the summer festival is something that she is extremely passionate about. It’s important to her that the A2SF embraces local culture and talent, and really embeds itself with the local community and citizens.

“It’s really important to me because of the expansive mission it serves, and the expansive number of attendees that are so fabulously effected in such positive ways...we are the most barrier free thing in the community. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what language you speak etc, anyone and everyone can be there and experience it.”

What’s your favorite part of A2SF, and what are some highlights from this year?

Nesbitt made it quite clear that one of her favorite things about the A2SF, and therefore something that’s a core focus of her team, is the emphasis on the local community. A2SF started at the Power Center and on the Fletcher parking garage, but has now expanded all across Ann Arbor, bringing in the participation of a wide range of other Ann Arbor businesses and business owners. The summer festival even pairs with specific local social service agencies through their Good Neighbor Ticket Program to ensure that locals from every part of the city can attend these wonderful events.

“We have a very local following, whether it’s people that are coming back and volunteering, or people that have been attending the shows for 20 years. We manage to have an amazing ripple effect in the community.”

Some the highlights of this year’s festival include the Retreat Series, the Kids Zone, tons of cool spectacles that are bound to wow you, and so much more. There are also countless bands/groups performing on stages across the city every night, as well as the “under the stars” movie nights that happen right in North Ingalls Mall.

Every year, the A2SF successfully provides a huge variety of performances and attractions that aim to please, no matter what your taste is. After getting the chance to talk to Nesbitt, as well as attend parts of the summer festival myself, it is clear to me that this year is no different! I hope that this timeless tradition can continue on, growing even more, thriving, and touching an increasing number of lives each year.

~Natalie White (Director of Social Media)

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