The following text is taken from a speech by IFEA World President & CEO Steven Wood Schmader, CFEE. It has been divided into sections for presentation on this site.
The Power of Celebration
The Evolving and Important Role of Festivals & Events around the World
In my position, as the President of IFEA World, I have the unique opportunity to travel quite extensively and to see, first-hand, the power and impact of festivals and events, from both an internal perspective and an external one.
Extrapolating from recent IFEA surveys, the special events industry, worldwide, is now estimated to include over 4-5 million regularly re-occurring festivals and events large enough to require municipal support services, such as police, fire, parks, trash, etc.; add to that those one-time or less than annual major events (i.e., the Millennium Celebrations, the Olympics, World’s Fairs, etc.) And the uncalculatable number of corporate celebrations, weddings, religious gatherings, school carnivals, and others, and you start to understand the huge impact of our industry, with an estimated combined economic impact in the trillions of U.S. Dollars and combined attendances that touch virtually every life on the planet several times over.
As evidenced around the world, festivals and events are among the most successful tools available to communities, states, regions, and even countries to increase tourism, create powerful and memorable branding and imaging opportunities, bond people together, encourage positive media coverage, enhance economic impact, and add to the quality of lives for those who live there.
Festivals and events are our “calling cards”. They tell people who we are and what is important to us. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to chose our own calling cards; sometimes they are chosen for us; for example – NYC & the tragedy of 9/11; Asia & Canada with the Sars virus and bird flu; Indonesia and the terrible destruction of the tsunami in that region; the health and human crisis’s in Africa; “the troubles” of recent history in Belfast; New Orleans and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; the wars and ongoing violence in the Middle East; Russia and the tragic school shootings by Chechnya rebels; the devastating earthquakes in Italy; or the drug trade in Latin America. Trust me when I say that all of these places would much rather have their image and media coverage be tied to the “calling card” of a quality festival or event or other cultural happening, like those produced by the professionals in our unique industry.
For as long as anyone can remember, people have celebrated. Celebration itself is perhaps the most common denominator that we have, with the unique ability to cross all barriers of race, religion, ethnicity, age, politics, economics, education and geography.
From small, localized celebrations to mega-events with global outreach, festivals and events bring hope and joy that sometimes burns the brightest in it’s simplest form; to the Olympics, who share a vision beyond just being a great sporting competition, and, as a result, succeed (with some global political posturing notwithstanding) in bringing the world together, if even for a brief few weeks, to celebrate our differences. The reason being, that the Olympics provides much more than just sports memories; most of us can’t remember the downhill ski heats or what the pole-vaulting record was; but we do remember the Koreas marching in together in Sydney; the reception for the Iraqi soccer team in Athens; the tribute paid to the indigenous peoples of Australia; the re-introduction of China to the world; and other worldwide peace accords declared during the Olympic games. In fact, events have brought more people together, peacefully, than any other world entity or profession. Let’s hope that the world will continue to see the important value in leaving politics and protests out of events, so that our industry can continue to use our events to bring the world closer together.
Ours is an industry that is built around dreams and imagination; and the people who understand not only the importance of dreaming, but know how to make them come true. We are an industry of “memory makers”. We are also community builders, storytellers, vision painters, bridge builders, and the purveyors of possibility. We bring families, friends, communities, countries and peoples together. We help them celebrate the special things in their lives, inspire them to see more, and provide the spark that allows them to light the world around them. That is the gift that our industry brings to the world and that is the legacy that we will leave.