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‘If they are not professionals, they shouldn't be doing it'

At one of the earliest Events Industry Forum meetings our good friend Mick Upton RIP made a similar statement along the lines of ‘If they are not spending their whole time organising and planning events, then they really should stick to their day jobs’.  There was an interesting debate around the room, but it was concluded in the end that most festivals and events in the UK are actually run by volunteers, not always the professional end of the market.  The fulltime professionals tend to come in the supply industry, the artists, agents, managers, publicists, marketing people etc. More often than not the head of the team, the one with the great idea to do it in the first place, could be a doctor, dentist, teacher, plumber, electrician in their day job.  In recent times whilst reading events magazines like Standout, in reviews and previews of festivals and events I have often seen the phrase ‘oh, we did alright, it wasn’t bad for the first time and we learnt an awful lot and will do it better next year’.

Which industry do you know that can get away with that?  Imagine if you invited a plumber into your house to fix the kitchen sink and it sort of worked but wasn’t as good as it should have been, and he departed cash in hand with the words ‘it is not as good as I wanted but it will be better next time’.  Read the same for police force, fire, doctors, nurses it’s not acceptable. Unfortunately, in our industry we are regarded as something that happens in our spare time usually fundraising for some charitable cause, often enthusiasts and volunteers.

I am not necessarily agreeing with my old colleague at EIF, in fact without the voluntary sector in the arts, there would not be anywhere near as much work about for the professionals to get involved. And quality of life in communities large and small would certainly suffer.  But why is it that our industry has to be run in this way?  Can there be more training?  Not that we want to turn everybody into professional fulltime organisers, but at least give them the opportunity to avoid the phrase ‘we learnt a lot, will do better next time’.

There are many events management courses up and down the country at universities and colleges.  Some of them run by people who have actually run events, others, sadly, the lecturers have merely read a book.  For economic reasons they are often linked to tourism and hospitality which sometimes works and it is the leading universities who are using the skills and knowledge of people who have worked at the coalface that actually succeed. Beware of others jumping on the bandwagon.  Not very long ago I met an ex-maths teacher who is now teaching event management and his qualifications were that he had read one of Professor Chris Kemp’s books and helped out on a few festivals.  It really won’t do and I would hope that the association that brings together event management courses would take a bit of care in vetting and monitoring the wide variety of training experiences that are out there.

We should also turn to such organisations as the PSA and NOEA, AFO, AIF and the Events Industry Forum itself responsible for publishing and keeping up to date the Purple Guide.  The training opportunities are out there, we should as an industry encourage at least some basics before my phone rings again with the query ‘I am going to run a festival, can you tell me how to do it?’

AFO: 13th Aug 2019 14:14:00

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