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Science Festival Helps Ease Pain and Adversity, Helps Local Economy
Guest Interviewer: Ann Marie Cunningham, for Arizona SciTech
Interview with Judy Paris.
LISoundFest: Long Island Sound Science Festival is a new science festival that takes place in an area still economically devastated by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. LISoundFest talked to some of AZSciTechFest’s partners to find out how a science festival can help a local economy.
Judy Paris, founder, The Spot Museum, Prescott, Arizona
Like the Sound shore, Prescott suffered a disaster in June 2013, when 19 city firefighters were killed.
Tell me about Prescott. Why did it need AZSciTechFest?
Prescott is very well aware of its history and the art of the past and present. STEM is well recognized at Prescott College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. But as far as the community has been concerned, STEM has been an appendage. Most charitable contributions go to art, history, and well-established charities here like the YMCA. In 2013 – 2014, most charity went to the families of City of Prescott firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill fire.
I wanted to bring the AZSciTechFest to Prescott because we do have STEM organizations and people here, at the Highlands Center for Natural History, wildlife rehabilitors at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, the Spot Museum, and the Children’s Museum Alliance. Many residents are interested in hiking and star-gazing. I wanted to bring all these groups and constituencies together.
Prescott also is a very popular tourist destination, but I was making no headway with the city tourism or economic development departments.
What did you do?
In May 2014, Prescott was celebrating its 150th anniversary, which was going to be a huge, two-day event in a downtown square adjacent to a football field. The site was near various local arts and history museums and galleries.
Jeremy and I wanted to build AZSciTechFest into this anniversary celebration. We met with city representatives, and explained what a science festival was. (Jeremy also met with our state representatives.) The anniversary celebration wanted to feature three aspects of Prescott: the Wild West, the Old West, and the New West. They had no idea what the New West should be, so we said, “Leave it to us.”
From that first meeting, we reached out to 12 groups who became part of the Prescott science festival board. They included a local Indian tribe and the Smoki Museum, a Prescott museum which focuses on the prehistory and history of Indians in the Southwest. We had representatives of the arts as well as STEM, because we wanted a festival of science and the arts, too. One of the board members of Embry-Riddle agreed to be co-chair with me.
Board members were required to give back to the festival in some way–contribute a presence at the event, contribute to marketing or other costs—and designate a community relations or marketing staffer as our liaison. All the groups represented had to decide how they wanted to be involved, and on what level.
What about your budget?
We had no budget. The firefighters’ tragedy affected everything and everyone in Prescott. Very few nonprofits got any money. The city had to ask for in-kind donations and services. We got some donated services, like trash collection, electric cables and generators. The city provided insurance, toilets, ads, electricity, and logistics.
Jeremy helped with marketing costs. Our tribal partner paid for marketing costs on their reservation. We were on Facebook as the Prescott SciTech Festival.
What did the New West look like?
To open the entire event, a helicopter from Aeronautical University landed on the football field on the first day to announce Prescott’s 150th anniversary. You can see it on YouTube: ADD LINK. It was super windy that day!
The New West was like a little town: you could follow a walkway into it. All 12 groups on our board set up 22 booths in the New West part of the anniversary area. We were on the football field: we had one side and one end zone. Each booth was 10 by 10 feet. A banner, 18 inches by 24 inches, hung on every booth, with the AZSciTech logo.
Five groups featured aeronautics, robotics, meteorology, and security, with lots of hands-on and interactive events like Up Up and Away, where kids built and flew paper airplanes. Our local gas company let visitors light gas and see it blow up. A resident with his own airplane parked it on the field, and we had a 60-foot solar balloon.
We gave visitors Passports to the New West. If they participated in 10 experiments at the booths, they were eligible for donated prizes like iPads and trips, tickets, balsa-wood airplanes.
What will you do this year?
It will be easier this year because our board now comprises 20 organizations, and we have a mission and name recognition. The festival certainly helped the Spot Museum, in that we have more visitors, especially to our robotics section. It’s set up to interest everyone, regardless of age or ability. The robotic arm is especially popular. Older kids can design and build their own robot from recycled parts. A 3-D wall features contemporary robots used by the military, medicine, prosthetics. You’ll see more of that at Prescott SciTechFest 2014!
Any advice for a start-up science festival?
Start small! Start with a board made up of 10 groups, a small core coalition of science-related groups committed to the idea. Then add 10 more groups the following year. And build on what’s already in place. Is there an established music or anniversary or arts festival in the area to which you can add science?