Public street events that focus on what's local and unique — instead of going general and themeless in an effort to increase the size of an event — can strengthen a city's sense of place.
The City of Seneca's Jazz on the Alley event helps raise the profile of local public service organizations. Photo: City of Seneca.
Take the City of Seneca, where the local impacts of community groups are on display at a popular weekly festival. The Humane Society, Safe Harbor, a domestic violence assistance organization, and Our Daily Rest, a shelter for the homeless, are just a few of the organizations the city has boosted through Jazz on the Alley, its outdoor music festival, which is held weekly from April through October.
"We invite public service organizations and charities to 'hey, come down, bring your information, put your table out there, and tell me about what you're doing,'" said Riley Johnson, the city's events coordinator. "Because you can't talk about charities and nonprofits enough."
Jazz on the Alley has also helped municipal elected officials engage with a greater diversity of residents on different, more positive terms.
"It gives City Council members a chance to meet their constituents in a nonboardroom atmosphere," said Johnson. "Often when people show up to council chambers, it's for complaints about something. But here, it's 'thank you for this event.'"
The City of Greer also saw the public service value of holding a fun, outdoor event with a special local theme.
The City of Greer's Railfest emphasizes train safety for motorists and pedestrians, while featuring live music and model trains. Photo: City of Greer.
With three rail companies — CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway and Amtrak — sharing railroad tracks, a growing population of young families, and heavier rail traffic due to the addition of Inland Port Greer in 2013, Greer officials knew they had to emphasize public safety. There had already been eight accidents involving trains from 2015 to 2017, including two pedestrian fatalities.
So the city partnered with Operation Lifesaver, a national organization that promotes rail safety, to create Railfest, a family fun and educational event funded in part by the city and a grant from the SC Ports Authority. The event featured Norfolk Southern's Lawmen Band, made up of members of the railroad's police department, and safety videos and handouts about changing motorists' and pedestrians' behaviors.
"We had four to five local train clubs come out, and that was where our adult audience was really growing. … Now, not only is our event for children and for them to hear safety tips, but they also get to see adults who still love trains as much as they do and still see the importance," said Ashlyn Stone, who served as the city's events supervisor during the 2017 RailFest.
Several strategic elements go into the renowned Greenville Saturday Market.
"Saturday Market started small and has grown into this wonderful event for us that people look forward to. It has grown but it's a very purposeful growth that we don't just accept any vendor or just let anything happen here," said Angie Prosser, director of public information and events for the City of Greenville. "We focus on local, and we focus on quality, and that has made our market so special."
The City of Greenville's TD Saturday Market accepts vendors who meet specific standards in
location and uniqueness. Photo: City of Greenville.
Vendors that have applied for a spot in the market must meet specific local and uniqueness standards.
"We want a good variety, and we don't want to have a saturation of a particular product. So we are very deliberate," she said.
"What produce do they bring? Where are they? Do we need the product? Is it unique? Is it filling a niche?" Prosser added. "It has to be local, even to the point of if you're making pies, are you buying the products locally?"
She said the market makes some rare exceptions, such as products that otherwise aren't available at the market. For instance, the market allows a salmon fisherman who fishes in Alaska each year to sell his catch. The only other market he frequents besides the Greenville market is in Asheville, North Carolina.
Vendors must undergo thorough vetting before they are allowed to set up at the market.
Greenville can afford to be selective. For example, the city conducts farm visits. If a tomato grower applies for a spot at the market, staff visits the farm before accepting the farmer as a vendor. They look at the farm's practices and conditions and ensure that it is less than 100 miles away.
"If there's someone local who offers the same thing, then we definitely wouldn't accept it from someone outside the area," said Prosser. "Let's say we have a farmer here in Greenville County — I'll use tomatoes — and you're applying from Spartanburg. We're going to give priority to a farmer close to Greenville."
Attracting vendors can be more difficult for smaller towns, which have significantly less foot traffic. That means rather than setting up a stand at a small-town farmers market, farmers may find it more lucrative to do business with farm-to-table restaurants and boutique grocery stores looking to stock their aisles with local produce.
But small towns may find that another aspect of the Greenville market's success is one they can replicate. Greenville pays careful attention to the market's appearance — a feature that makes the city's market visually distinct. The city creates all the branding for the market, which is sponsored by TD Bank, and ensures that each tent and banner is perfectly uniform.
"We control the look and feel of our market," said Prosser. "We do that for all our events."
Legal Steps to Playing Movies and Music
Cities and towns should be careful to avoid running afoul of copyright laws when planning events. The Town of Lexington co-hosts Movies in the Park with the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission. The city provides the venue, the Icehouse Amphitheater, which won a Municipal Achievement Award in 2017, along with Lexington Police Department support. The county recreation commission purchases the rights of a given movie through Swank.
Residents enjoy movies and events at the Icehouse Amphitheater in the Town of Lexington.
Photo: Town of Lexington.
As for concerts that take place at the Icehouse Amphitheater, the town is permitted to play short clips of songs. But due to copyright restraints, the town cannot play video or use Facebook Live or other means to broadcast a song in its entirety.
The town's information technology department has licensing rights with AudioBlocks to use music in any of the town's video productions.