And, if you’ve ever planned an event, you know that it’s not easy.
Even when it’s a simple event, there are challenges that your participants don’t see. Heck, there are challenges in planning and promoting an event like an open Pagan ritual that even many of my organizers and volunteers don’t see unless they are volunteering for that particular area. For instance, how much work goes into promoting an event even just by posting it on Facebook or via email. Or one of my least favorite things–waiting for people to pre-register. I am so often on pins and needles, waiting for people to register for an event so that I know it’ll cover costs, and people wait til the last minute. It’s nerve wracking.
But let’s go back to the emails and comments that I frequently field. Now, I’ve done a lot of personal work, and I teach communication. So I’ve learned to “hear” some of the comments people offer me that come across as snarky, and realize that most of them probably aren’t trying to be snarky. That most of the time if I’m defensive, it’s because I’m protecting an old ego wound. That being said, I really would like for more Pagans to understand the impact of their words and actions.
Here are some of the comments that I regularly field when I plan an event in Chicago:
- Can’t you do that event further North in the city?
- Can’t you do events on the South Side?
- I’ll come when you do something near (far out suburb).
- That’s on the sabbat, I have other obligations.
- Why can’t you do events on the actual sabbat?
- Is your event kid friendly? I want to bring my kids, but no, I’m not willing to volunteer with other parents to offer kids programming or trade off watching kids at the event.
- I live near (a part of the city on a train line that can easily get to the venue), I’ll come to something when it’s closer to me.
- I can’t come to your event, I’d have to take a bus and a train.
- Oh, I can’t come to a ritual that day, I have to get my hair done.
- I can’t afford to attend (an event that is clearly listed as sliding scale)
- I can’t afford to come to your event (person later that week posts about buying new expensive items on their FB)
- I’ll come next year.
- Can’t you just do women’s rituals? I don’t want to come if men are there or if you’re invoking the God.
- I can’t come to your event, I’d never park my car there.
- I won’t come to your event, it’s by a homeless shelter, it’s not safe.
- How dare you host an event in (a particular) city park? There are drug dealers (ie, brown people) there! Why can’t you host something in (far out suburb) where I live?
You can probably see me sitting at my computer beating my head against a desk at some of these. For the comments I get containing racism, classism, or the occasional genderist or homophobic comments, I start to see red a little bit on the edge and this particular vein starts to pound.
What I usually want to tell people is, “Sure, you plan the event and incur the costs of renting a space, then we’ll talk.” But I understand that most people just don’t understand how much work goes into putting on even a small event. How much most venues cost to rent. For that matter, I doubt anyone has any idea how many hundreds of hours I’ve put into researching potential venues in Chicago, through online searches and in person visits.
I take a lot of factors into account when choosing a venue, but the primary one is usually rental cost. Well, and finding an available date. I also look at proximity to public transportation, availability of cheap/free parking, accessibility. The space itself has to work for the intended event; some of the local bookstores just don’t work well for classes or rituals, for instance, because they don’t have a large enough room or they don’t have a door that closes.
At 1900 Fulton (the Mankind project community space in Chicago) we’ve found a really great deal. There’s a large room for ritual or vendors, there’s an outdoor space and firepit for rituals if we want it, and there’s small rooms to the side for break out groups/workshops. There’s free parking on the street, and not-too-bad access to bus and train within a block or three depending on where you’re coming from. It’s a fairly central space and close to the highway, so folks who are in the suburbs and looking for a ritual to attend can easily get there and park.
As a community organizer who is, putting it bluntly, living way below the poverty line, I can’t front the money for a venue. I’m completely dependent on at-the-door donations to make things happen. It’s limited what I’m able to do. I’ve done a few events that didn’t cover costs over the years. Thankfully, a few community members who had $25 or $50 or even $75, or even an extra $5 or $10 helped to bring my local group (Ringing Anvil) back in the black.
However, it’s been disheartening for me as an organizer to know how much money an event will pull in, and to know that doing anything more expensive than that probably isn’t going to work most of the time. A further challenge is that the space I currently use for rituals and events is raising their prices; they’ve been giving me a discount, but they need to start making the full amount since they are getting more bookings.
Thing is, I love offering things on a sliding scale. It fits my values. But at the same time, I can’t even articulate how nerve wracking it is not knowing if we’ll pay the event costs until the event is done. I don’t get stressed out about putting on a public ritual or teaching classes. I sit with rather a lot of anxiety over, ‘Is this event going to cover costs?” It’s actually a testament to how much I love serving community that I keep doing it, knowing how stressed out I’ll be about money running up to, and during, the event.
August 10th, I’m taking a big risk. I’m bringing in 2 Pagan musicians to host a concert with Sharon Knight and SJ Tucker. It’s a risk because we not only have to pay for the venue, but we need to make sure that the artists get paid too. We’re doing a Lughnassadh ritual first, and the concert after. I’m hoping that this will work out and that a lot of local people will be inspired to come on out, because if it does well financially then I’ll be able to afford to bring other artists and presenters into town.
Challenges in Organizing
I think picking dates, and picking a venue, are my two least favorite things about planning an event, because I’m guaranteed to disappoint people because they’re busy on that date, or the location is too far. But then again, what I’ve heard from people over and over is that they really aren’t willing to rearrange their schedule to attend a ritual or even a really cool class. Literally, I’ve heard: I have to get my hair done, nails done, go grocery shopping, go hang out with my mom, etc, etc. People are busy, but it’s also that some people are committed and willing to make the time and effort to come out to an event.
Why it matters is this. I can’t run an event without organizers. But…I also can’t run an event without attendees. Every time I run an event, I panic that there won’t be enough people show up to make the event worth hosting, both energetically and financially. I used to do more rituals in Chicago but I cut back when only 30 or so folks would show up for a ritual.
Some of you who facilitate rituals where you typically get 45-15 attendees might think, I’d love to get 30 people! In Chicago, however, there should be, statistically, thousands of Pagans. When I promote an event, I have to be reaching at least 1,000 Chicagoland people directly. The kinds of rituals that I do work best with 50 or more people. I won’t go into the facilitation dynamics right now, but for ecstatic rituals done in a public setting, 50 people just makes it a lot easier to facilitate.
With my current venue costs for an evening ritual, I would need 50 people to each pay in $3 just for the venue. Pop in a few other expenses, like paying for Meetup.com, ritual supplies like candles, other things, and we could put that to perhaps $4 each. Typically, my events have just broken even for the past years, paying for the venue and a little bit towards meetup and supply costs. I probably pay into this as well, particularly if you count all the ritual decorations which I’ve paid for out of pocket.
If I want to hire a presenter or host a concert, that could add anywhere from an additional $100 (maybe they are doing it for just gas money) to $2,000 or more. Organizing a conference, even if I get most of my presenters on a volunteer basis or for gas money, racks up the cost as well. It’s something I love doing, and hope to do more of if I can make it more financially viable.
Occasionally, I get pretty excited because I meet a Pagan who is interested in organizing events in their local area. If you’re interested in organizing events and want a little help learning how, or learning some of the things that I do to organize and promote events, I’m happy to help. More often, I talk to people who do some local organizing, who would like to see more going on, but who aren’t really willing to do the work of organizing and making things happen. Sometimes folks are just too busy, or sometimes they just don’t have what I call Event-planner-itis. But, until someone steps in to organize something, nothing’s going to happen.
In fact, I think that defines the whole cycle of Pagan community; when there’s a motivated organizer, things happen in an area. And then that person burns out, and then nothing happens for a while. I hope that that trend begins to even out. In fact, I’ve been incredibly inspired by folks in Central Illinois who are banding together to organize and co-organize, working to support each other’s events as opposed to competing with each other. There’s some amazing potential there.
So if I can help, let me know. Or even if I can just help you network in your area, let me know.
Let’s all work together to make our community more sustainable. It’s worth it, if we want healthy communities.