How to start a arts and music festival

I have been on hiatus from the blogosphere for several weeks since I have been volunteering for a local non-profit. This is the second year of my involvement in this non-profit arts organization, started by a few members of my community last year.

I am a firm believer that the arts are an invaluable component in every community. It spurs tourism and connects people to one another. Today, technology can disconnect and supplant social interaction. So organizing arts-related events in a community not only celebrates the arts but also serves a prime social purpose connecting members of the community.

Last year, eight local residents recognized the need for an arts and music festival (Haverstraw RiverArts & Music Festival) to be held in an underserved park, Emeline Park, located on the Hudson River in Haverstraw, NY. Planning this event required us to meet every 2-3 weeks for 5 months to make this happen. The key to fostering a successful event is finding dedicated committee members, who are organized and deliver what is needed. Luckily, all of us were efficient and worked well together to achieve our goal. Have you ever been a part of an organization whose meetings go on endlessly because a few obnoxious mouthpieces love to hear themselves talk? This drives me crazy since time is wasted and nothing is achieved. Cut to the chase, work on it and achieve the goal efficiently. End of story.

Music Festival Wheelchair fashion

Comfort is key. The sound engineer took pity upon me when he saw how hard it was for me to maneuver my chair with one arm and hold a parasol with the other. So he found a black pole and fastened my parasol with neon pink tape to protect me from the 90 degree heat. All the volunteers wore tie dye tees made by Andrea Caccuro. Don’t forget your Prada patent leather sneaks which repel all the beer I poured over myself in the beer garden.

In our latest endeavor, we had each volunteer commit to one of the following areas:

  1. Arts – An announcement for sculptors was made for creation of sculptures on the shore of the Hudson. The call was publicized on social media and various non-profit art sites. In the end, two teams of two artists were chosen and awarded a prize of $500 per team. (We posted to–to name a few where you should post.)
  2. Music – four local and nationally known eclectic bands were selected to play throughout the day.
  3. Graphic Design – this year we hired a designer so I could concentrate on PR and social media. The designer designed a flyer, a postcard and banners.
  4. Crafts vendors – a flyer was uploaded to many Facebook group pages and Twitter seeking vendors to participate. This was very effective especially since it didn’t require any paid advertising.
  5. Food trucks – We knew a few local trucks and used Google to find the last one.
  6. Kids’ Entertainment – Someone suggested Mario the Magician, a high energy inventor and magician from Nyack, NY. We also found a talented face painter and arranged a Community Art Tile Project, which encouraged children to paint and glaze animals of the Hudson River onto tiles, which will eventually be fired and displayed in a outdoor public mural this fall.
  7. Social Media/PR/Marketing – This was my job and one which I really enjoyed. First, I began by placing paid, targeted Facebook ads, then posted the announcement on dozens of Facebook groups, paid for print ads in local magazines, News12, and numerous Hudson Valley, NYC, Northern NJ and Connecticut online publications. The most obvious, inexpensive way to spread news about an event is to design a website with targeted Search Engine Optimization. This topic is too lengthy to discuss in one blog post, but as an example I used these targeted words so people could find us on Google. “Waterfront Music Arts Festival – Rockland County, NY – Hudson Valley Festival”. I also posted to, an event aggregator which posts to over 2 dozen local news sites. The last valuable piece of information was asking your local news channel to sponsor your event. News 12 of the Hudson Valley posted this event for an entire week on TV and the home page of their website.
  8. Sponsors – Finally and most importantly are the sponsors who donate money. One way to balance costs is to charge patrons. However, we decided against this and approached nearby businesses, both large and small. Soliciting donations is not my forté, so some co-volunteers pitched in and helped out. If not for the sponsors, none of this would have been possible.

I won’t bore you on the intricacies of launching a festival. Instead, here are some photos of the fruits of our labor of love.

Heron made out of garbage from the Hudson River. DIY sculpture

This behemoth blue heron  sculpture was constructed out of garbage found along the shore of the Hudson River. The underbelly was welded with all the plastic and cans fastened around the structure. It was created by local professional artists Doris-Laughton Smith and Joan Harmon. The bird sat at the entrance to Emeline Park–site of the festival.

paper mache gigantic puppets for music festival

These paper mache puppets were created by Karen Baumann, Arts Coordinator for our school district and her student volunteers. When she asked me “Do you think the yellow puppet needs a beard?” I squealed, “Karen, every dude has a beard these days. Let’s push tonsorial arts for millennials.” She’s very resourceful. The beard was constructed out of old wigs.

sculpture by Greg Moson and Rebecca Siracusa - outdoor sculpture Emeline Park Haverstraw, NY.

Sculpture by Rebecca Siracusa and Greg Moson were one group of winners in our Call For Artists  juried sculpture contest. The long strands were made from water chestnuts found along the Hudson River along with the bricks and drift wood.

Susan Luss and Richard Vivienzo outdoor sculpture in Emeline Park. They were the winners in our call for artists entry.

Susan Luss and Rich Vivenzio working with a construction of color gels and  variety of rope, brought these materials together to build a site-specific installation. In collaboration with the sun and the rotational force of the earth, the installation created a constantly moving three-dimensional painting and drawing in space. They were winners team 2 of the Call For Artists event.

James Tyler sculpture Emeline Park NY.

Winner #3 James Tyler made this sculpture from metal, wood, clay.


JAWBONE - Americana music.

Jawbone – Americana

Mr. Breakdown deliver funk music.

Mr. Breakdown – funk – I love funk music and this band had me spinning around like a fool. What is it with guys and a sax? God I love that instrument.

Pablo Major Quintet

Pablo Mayor Folkore Urbano Quintet – Colombian Groove. I loved these guys and the best part is some of them are from QUEENS, NY. Let’s hear it for QUEENS people!!!!!!

Jamie Block - folk

Jamie Block – Folk.

Donating your time to a cause can be stressful but very gratifying. I have volunteered in many organizations over the years and have found the Haverstraw RiverArts & Music Festival to be the most gratifying since I am vested in the community. I enjoy the challenge and know that my commitment will help nurture future creative endeavors. Have you ever tried to organize a festival in your community? If something has held you back, give it another try. I found it to be a learning curve and hope to become more successful. Though I am not a PR/Social Media expert, I want to learn more and improve in this field. It takes patience and time for a waterfront fête to flourish. In the meantime, I hope our volunteer group continues in its endeavors and creates excitement and interest in our beautiful community.

Quick tips to start a  FESTIVAL-HOW TO-CHECKLIST:

• Build a website using Easy, and pretty idiot proof. They have great templates and inexpensive packages. Here is the site.

• Draft a press release. Example: Haverstraw RiverArts-pressrelease.

• Draft a sponsor letter to send to corporations and local businesses. Haverstraw RiverArts Music Festival sponsor letter.

• Use Google Docs to keep organized. There you can keep a budget, list of sponsors, committee member contacts, and press outlets and social media to-do’s to easily share  with all your committee members. Organization is key.

Good luck and comment if you would like to make a suggestion or leave a comment in general.



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