Today was the Word on the Street Festival, the first iteration for Lethbridge. On the upside, it was nice to see some version of this national event in the city; on the downside, organization left something to be desired.
My primary complaint is that the contracted organizer seemed to miss that this was supposed to be about the written word. Three quarters of the booths and activities had some other focus: ethnic food, a roller derby booth, blood donors, jazz and country musicians, ethnic dancers, face painting, and so on. I get that the organizer was trying for a festive atmosphere with lots of interesting things happening, but it did rather end up feeling more like the random collection of tables/tents one gets at the weekly farmer's market than anything remotely related to the written word.
Furthermore, the logic of setting up a bandstand and installing a country singer at one end of the block while setting up poetry readings and meet-the-author events downwind along the same block of his city-blasting sound system escapes me. At one point Tigana and I walked past what appeared to be a choir of 20 or more singers whose lips appeared to be moving but from whom we could detect no sound, given the banshee wail of the country performer. What was the point of this arrangement? If I were the choir, I would have been supremely pissed to have been asked to perform under such inappropriate conditions. I know that we certainly didn't bother even trying to listen to the various author readings, for it was clearly a hopeless endeavour. Giving priority to the bandstand over the authors seems to rather severely miss the whole point of the exercise! Why weren't the authors given the bandstand sound system, and the musicians off in the corners, instead of the other way around?
And where were the literary activities? Face paint for the kids is all well and good, but where is the instant poetry booth, the magnetic poetry board, the graffiti wall, the improve group, the word-oriented kids activities? Or adult activities, for that matter? There was nothing to involve, engage the passerby that had anything to do with writing or reading -- clearly, the organizer didn't believe words would be enough and opted for Festival Filler instead.
And Tigana burst into laughter at the sight of the heavily advertized 'bouncy house for the kids' -- it was smaller by half than our own family's backyard version, purchased from Costco; it wasn't even the size of the entrance to the bouncy house at the house party we had attended the night before. For a city-wide event, advertizing a bouncy house as the main attraction for the kids, I think we imagined something bigger than a toddler's wading pool. It was embarrassing.
I have to give some credit for organizing skype conferences with various authors; but I know it embarrassed Mary to live in a community with so few writers we had to skype in speakers. And when I talked to a couple of writers I knew forlornly manning the autograph table and asked how sales of their books had been, one Edmonton author confessed she'd only sold one book, and that to the out of town author sitting next to her.
The University bookstore did an excellent job of profiling itself as somewhere to buy books other than texts, and they were good to have copies of all the featured authors available for sale. But I can't help wondering if they broke even on the deal....
I hope the event goes again next year...but I hope the organization is a little better.