Love Our Local Fest: A collaborative neighborhood block party

[“Love Our Local” is a street festival created 8 years ago by people who live in the Northeast neighborhood of Olympia.  This year’s fest will take place on Saturday, August 18 from 1-10 pm on San Francisco Street at Bethel in NE Olympia. Kelly Miller talked with Daniel Landin, a musician and organizer, about the festival’s origins and value to the community, as well as what to expect this year.]

Kelly:  Tell us how you got involved in organizing Love Our Local Fest

David:  I was inspired to do it by the place I live, my neighborhood up on Bethel Street where the fest happens. I was  inspired by ArtsWalk too. I’ve always loved how downtown Olympia changes during ArtsWalk when all the streets shut down.

I was just walking in my neighborhood one day and thinking about how the corner of Bethel and San Francisco Street is really a main arterial—it’s the central node of our neighborhood, with a school and a bakery. Yet it was always full of cars driving by. I thought, how cool would it be if we could take over this spot for one day without cars? So I decided to approach a few people with the idea.

My friend Marie Poland was the person who lit up with a “yes” when I said “Hey, what do you think about doing something like a local-oriented community street party?” And so the two of us started organizing in May and put things together pretty quickly by August.

A police officer called me when we first put the permit in to see what exactly I was planning. He actually was very friendly and helped out with thinking through a couple of details. By the third year, we had to fill out an event permit instead of just a block party permit because LOL had grown so much. It is still a block party though—I think of it as a block party—but also a little more.

So like a block party plus?

Yeah. From the start, Marie’s energy really brought that “plus.” She’s one of the people behind the Buy Local program, that offers coupon books to support local businesses. She’s always been focused on the local economy, so she brought that element to the Fest. I’m more involved with the music community so my interest was to bring in music.

The Fest sounds like a convergence of performance, arts, and local business and producers.

All those things and non-profits; that’s really the basic idea.

It’s very impressive that Love Our Local Fest has been an annual event for eight years. What does the planning process for the Fest look like?

We’ve always had three central organizers and we’re finally starting to break out of that. We’ve wanted to grow that core team for several years. Our organizing is consensus-based, but not in a formalized way.

We have people that coordinate different areas of the Fest. The stage and the performances are my area. Ashley McBee has been handling sponsorship and marketing, as well as other logistics. Gail O’Sullivan does our web stuff and oversees the booths. Teasha McCallum did the artisan booths this year. Jade is running the Synergy Dome.

What do you look for when searching for performance artists for the Fest?

It’s fairly informal; I look for artists that inspire me or feel inspired to me. People do ask me if they can perform and I also end up asking others to play. I kind of feel like a curator. There are so many worthy artists in Olympia.

You mentioned before that you’re inspired to do this work by the neighborhood you live in. In your opinion, what’s the value of an event like this in terms building connections with neighbors?

The Fest is an opportunity for people to come out and participate in a city-wide event as well as a neighborhood event—I think of it like concentric circles. People who live in the neighborhood will come and go from the Fest all day. There’s one neighbor who I’ve seen several times rolling a rack of clothing from her house to sell—the various opportunities of the festival are coming directly to the people in the neighborhood. Neighbors often volunteer at the festival too.

Ashley McBee has been in touch with the Northeast Neighborhood Association and they’ve been incredibly supportive. To do what we do, we need the blessing of the Association but they’ve also gone above and beyond that. For example, they’ve helped us get grants, which has had a huge impact.

I love how you’re describing all of these different aspects of the community coming together to put this festival on.

The more that kind of cooperation can happen, the better. There are always ways to keep expanding it.

Do the other festival organizers also come from different communities within Olympia?

We’re always looking for people who light up at the idea of doing something at the festival. For example, Teasha, who is running the artisan market, is a crafter herself so it’s natural for her to organize other crafters.

Another notable contributor was my friend Tyler. He painted the big, colorful banners that will be the stage décor. There are many different kinds of artists working on the festival. We even have someone doing “garbage art” out of all the collected recycling.

Any other upcoming highlights of this year’s Fest you’d like to share?

I’m very excited about the Synergy Dome performance space—there’s going to be a community mural painted there. Also Omar’s Jasmine Dragon “Communitea” space. Oma is an amazing individual who travels to festivals in his “tea dragon.”  It’s like its own little world. You can go inside and just hang out and have tea, no charge.  He’s come to the fest for years but is always a highlight.

So he’s part of a list of recurring participants who come back from year to year?

Another returning participant is Pizza Rocks—they’re using their new oven for the first time ever in Olympia.

We also have Cadence McCracken, who organized poetry for the festival several times. We have musicians lined up to play from start to finish this year, and all of them are local.

You seem to have many different genres and types of music represented.

Never as many as we could! In the past we’ve had electronic, bluegrass, hip-hop, world music that I love. This year we’ll have a Rumba band.

Will you participate in the festival as well as helping to organize it?

I’ll be performing with my band – as I’ve done every year — along with curating the festival. It’s tricky, but playing in the street is too much of a fun opportunity to pass up.

Do your fellow organizers participate as well?

Yes! Shari Trnka, who designed our logo, has worked as a core organizer for years. She’s also an up-cycling seamstress participating in the artisan market.

Even though the vibe of the whole event seems very family-friendly, will there be activities specifically geared towards families and kids?

The playground where we usually had kid activities is currently under construction. We encouraged our artisan and non-profit booths to have  interactive ways to engage kids. Maureen Nelson a local artist, will have a mandala-making workshop with kids around the Synergy Dome.

It’s great that there will also be workshops making local knowledge part of the festival — attendees will get to see art happening as well as finished products…

Yes, we try to make space for that. We’re going to have a mycology workshop as well as other artisan demos. Because people are floating around, the booths are almost a more effective way to spread knowledge. On our online application form for vendors, we also have a spot that says, “We are hoping to provide a hands-on experience at the Fest this year. What crafter skills can you demonstrate inside your booth that people can experience first–hand?”

Local non-profits also have a chance to make connections with people, right? Which non-profits will be represented this year?

The Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team will be there, as well as SideWalk, Capitol City Pride and the Olympia Family Theatre, among many others.  You’ll have to come and see who’s there!

Kelly Miller is a student of the life and economy of the Pacific Northwest and a regular contributor to Works in Progress.

 

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