Maybe you’ve seen the slogan “Party at MI place” on billboards throughout the state. It’s a fun play on words for sure, but the whimsical saying has gone a long way in advocating for Michigan’s arts and culture scene.
The campaign actually arose when times were a little tougher in Michigan, about five years ago. Sue Bila, executive director of the Michigan Festivals and Event Association (MFEA), was part of the brains behind the strategy.
“That slogan was born at a time when people were down about events and the economy,” Bila said. “We wanted to do something positive that inspired pride and a community of celebration. When the billboards started to appear, our website, Michiganfun.com, went up to two million hits. People were blowing their horns when they saw the billboards. The inspiration was unbelievable.”
And the campaign wasn’t just seen in Michigan; a “Party at MI place” banner went up in space on the shuttle Atlantis, which was piloted by a Michiganian.
“They took it up, and two months later brought it back to Michigan and presented it at the Tall Ship Festival in Bay City. It has been a very positive, award winning campaign.”
That’s the type of enthusiasm Bila brings to her organization, which promotes Michigan’s many festivals and events, most of which celebrate the unique aspects of Michigan’s cultures, history, agriculture and arts.
Bila explained that the state’s arts and culture scene goes hand in hand with its festivals and events.
“There wouldn’t be a single festival without our arts and culture community,” she said.
The goal of MFEA is to help event organizers put a lot of thought into the design and content of a festival, specifically in how they can become more original and utilize Michigan’s very own artists first.
“Art galleries and museums all play a strong part of that,” Bila said. “They wait for the people to come in and show their community off. But agriculture plays a big part in Michigan’s festivals as well. Things like what you can do with a potato, or what you do with beans. Ninety percent of our festivals have a strong relationship with agriculture.”
Bila cited the many different food-related festivals, including the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, the different Michigan brewery-related events, the different Michigan wine events, the many potato festivals in Michigan and so on.
“If you grow it, we celebrate it somewhere in Michigan,” Bila said.
Other well known festivals include the Pine Mountain Music Festival in the Upper Peninsula, Blissfest Music Festival in the Petoskey area, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson, the Detroit Jazz Festival, Gaylord Alpenfest, the Charlevoix Venetian festival and other art festivals in that region. Petoskey has several art festivals and a historic festival, and Elk Rapids has a Harbor Days festival.
Bila also noted that many festivals celebrate the heritage of Michigan residents, including the Alma Highland Festival that features bagpipes, various German festivals, the Tulip Festival in Holland, among others.
In terms of the impact Michigan’s festivals have on its economy, Bila explained the very cautious estimate she likes to use.
“In 2012, over 35 million people attended festivals and events in Michigan,” Bila said. “If the average amount spent was $20 per person, that adds up to $700 million.”
She emphasized that is a conservative estimate, and the actual amount might be much higher.
“A survey of Cherry Fest attendees indicated that they are spending between $300 and $400 per person,” she said. “And you have to take into account distance traveled, lodging, gas and food. At an art festival, you might buy a piece of art for $1,000. Concerts can range from $140-200 per ticket.”
Bila credited the success and huge impact of Michigan’s festivals and events to volunteers.
“You couldn’t have a festival without the volunteers,” she said. “Our hats are always off to the volunteers of Michigan. They make it happen.”