You gotta love the music and the food and the drinks and the art available to enjoy over the course of the Fourth of July weekend at Cityfolk Festival – it’s a great party. But the weekend is something more. It’s a snapshot of our community; diverse cultural groups throughout the region all celebrated for their uniqueness while being featured in one unified festival. As a volunteer supporting Cityfolk through the You Make the Music Happen campaign, I’ve had the opportunity to meet the new Executive Director of Cityfolk. Kathleen Alter is a woman with a lot of energy, drive and passion to keep the Cityfolk Festival alive in Dayton and bring greater awareness and participation to the many, many, many other programs Cityfolk offers throughout the year.
So, as Juliet and the DMM music crew provide great features on the music of the Cityfolk Festival, now seems to be a good time to learn a little more about the history and culture of Cityfolk and the Fest. So, I asked Kathleen some questions about the history of the organization, her perception of the Festival and what it takes to make it successful.
Q: Which came first for Cityfolk: festival or organization?
The organization came first and was incorporated in 1981. The organization will celebrate it’s 30th season in the 2011/2012 season. The first festival was in 1996 and came to Cityfolk as part of the National Folk Festival. It took place on Courthouse Square.
Q: How did the organization of Cityfolk get its start?
In 1980, five Dayton residents created a series featuring an Irish music concert, Greek dance workshop, Appalachian square dance, African drumming and dance workshop, and the creation of a mural in a neighborhood park. The grassroots effort attempted to bring together the cauldron of cultures that call Dayton home to showcase diversity in the arts. The combination worked, and the organizers realized that the success of the first year pointed to an important need existing in the community–the need for the arts and creative expression of all of Dayton’s ethnic and cultural groups to be displayed in a professional manner. (Adapted from Cityfolk History document)
Q: How did Cityfolk come to host the festival?
Traditionally the National Folk Festival came to a city, stayed for 3 years and moved to another location. When it left in 1998, Cityfok decided to keep producing a festival due to the great reception it received here. So 1999 was the first year the Cityfolk produced a festival. In 2003 the festival moved to its current location at Riverscape.
Q: How is Cityfolk different than any other local concert promoter?
Cityfolk’s mission is to bring the best in ethnic arts to Dayton. That doesn’t always mean the top names are brought in. Many promoters look at what artists will sell tickets and if they aren’t a big name won’t bother with them. Cityfolk has a reputation for recognizing top talent. Many of our artists are award winners for their talent (many of these awards are important but rather obscure in the main stream) Therefore, the artist may not be a big name but if they have a big talent we look to promote them.
Q: What is the goal for the Festival?
Cityfolk believes that a festival is so much more then drinking a beer and listening to a band. Festivals add to the quality of life and provide a sense of community for a city.
- We hope that people will come down and have fun, but also realize what a great community Dayton is.
- We hope that people will broaden their sense of music. We feature Celtic, bluegrass, jazz and world music at our festival. We hope that someone will realize they love a new genre of music that they were previously not aware of or thought they wouldn’t like.
- We hope that the festival will expose new people to Cityfolk and make them aware of all the other events we do during the year.
- We hope that the festival is a financial success with the suggested donation campaign.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge with the festival?
- Paying for it. The festival costs approximately $350,000 to produce. Funding at the local, state and federal level has fallen significantly in the last few years so it gets harder to find funding each year. We are always looking for new, alternative sources of funding. The income from the festival not only pays for the festival but for events the rest of the year. This is the reason we are doing the suggested donation this year. We certainly do not want to start charging for the festival as that might alienate too many people who truly can’t afford to attend so we are hoping that a suggested donation will appeal to those who can afford to help.
- Advertising it on a very small budget. We are always looking for ways to spread the news about the festival to the outlying towns like Kettering, Centerville, Vandalia, etc.
Q: Cityfolk is often associated with the festival – what do you want people to know about the organization outside of the festival?
This is probably my biggest frustration. People know us through the festival or concerts or education, but very few people know about everything we do. We have such a range of activities and collaborate with so many organizations that if people know everything it would blow them away.
(Writer’s Note: Look for one all-inclusive Cityfolk brochure and a more active advertising campaign to learn about all that Cityfolk does – and check out their Web site.)
Now a little more about the woman at the helm of Cityfolk…
Q: What drew you to apply for the job at Cityfolk?
I saw that the organization had a festival and my background is producing festivals, and I love festivals. I also really loved the education program that Cityfolk did as I feel education is a big part of the arts. I really loved that the organization was a community organization and worked to bring in arts that the community wanted to see. My first interview with them was a phone interview with Jerry Brunswick (president) and Matt Dunn (president-elect) and I got a really warm feeling from then and sensed that the board was very open-minded to changes that might need to be made in order to keep the organization thriving. It seemed like the right job from the moment I read the job description.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at the Festival?
Good weather and people who realize the value of the festival and want to help support it.
Q: What would make this year’s festival a success in your mind?
Success can be on a lot of levels. Certainly I would like the festival to be a financial success, which means bringing in enough money to cover festival costs and have enough left over to help fund the events through the year. I also hope that new people discover the festival and the music that we present and find one more thing about Dayton that they like. I hope that many people choose to make that a meeting point for their friends and have a really great time.
The organization is in the process of deciding what the future of the organization is. I would like to see the festival and education programs continue to expand in content and geography. I would like to see more membership. I would like to see the concerts offer even more genres of world music and possible branch out to different venues out of downtown in order to reach more people.
Q: What’s your favorite Dayton spot you’ve discovered?
I love the Wine Gallery and 5th Street in the Oregon District. I love Taquiera Mixteca. I love Hills & Dales park (and can’t wait to discover the rest of the Five Rivers Metroparks). I love Oakwood and Dorothy Lane Market. Sorry, too hard to pick just one.
Q: Anything else we should know about you?
I have lived all over the world growing up and most of the time I choose to live in larger cities so I had some second thoughts about moving a city the size of Dayton. Since I have been here I have been overwhelmed with the kindness and warmth that people have shown me. I don’t think I have ever lived in a city where people would go out of their way to say welcome and ask if I needed anything. It has truly warmed my heart and made me love Dayton in a very short time. Not to mention, that there is always something to do in this city.
Don’t miss the Cityfolk Festival this year! Line up of musicians available here. Sign up through the standard volunteer form or learn more about how to volunteer for the Make the Music Happen campaign.
Friday, July 1
6:00 – 11:00 PM
Saturday, July 2
1:00 – 11:00 PM
Sunday, July 3
1:00 – 10:30 PM