Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fleshing out the event...

From John
So what is this Chicago VeganMania, anyway? The core group has already made a lot of the basic decisions, but there is still a lot that's in the air. For starters, here is what we have determined during our meetings so far:

Chicago VeganMania is a celebration of Chicago's vegan culture, commerce, community, and food. It will most likely take place either the last Saturday of September or the first Saturday of October 2009 in and around a beautiful park district building centrally located in the Wicker Park neighborhood (I don't want to say any names of anything that isn't confirmed yet. We have submitted aplications for one of those two Saturdays. It's the policy of the Chicago Park District – or at least this building – to not make decisions for booking 2009 events until after the first of the year. We're on friendly terms with the folks there, though, and they seem excited to have us).

The event will include tables from at least 50 vegan or vegan-friendly companies and nonprofits, as well as food provided for sample and sale by several local vegan restaurants. There will be a large children's area or family area with crafts and activities,and come sort of entertainment either on stage or traveling through the crowd. During the first year, anyway, the event would fill two large rooms and a long veranda of this aforementioned park district building.

It has been my charge from the core group to compile and lay out our list of new ideas to add to the above. All the ideas below have a shared focus of creating a lively experiential interactive atmosphere that really shows off all the great aspects of our community. This should be the vegan equivalent of Chinese New Year's in Chinatown or the Pride Parde in Boystown, and should be seen as welcoming, inclusive, and engaging for everyone, no matter their relation to our subculture. Keep in mind as you go through these that we will be encouraging different local and national vegan companies to directly sponsor some of these events or stations, and, in fact, a couple of companies have already expressed an interest in doing so.

Note: all of these ideas are fluid, and we welcome and ask for your comments and critiques. We also would love to hear your ideas. Please express yourself in the comment box following this post.

Here we go:

• DJs in each room laying a bed of ambient music to set the tone. Probably something lively and upbeat, but not too intrusive or dominating (this is done at at least one of the big crafter's fairs held in that very space, and it really adds a nice touch).

• Wandering performers, such as jugglers, improv groups, performance artists, magicians, hula hoopers, or whatever interesting folks we can find.

Related to above: We create a series of "VegHeads", people wearing large whole head vegetable or fruit masks (somewhat related to the critter at the top of the right column of this page), which we would build beforehand out of foam rubber and cloth and other materials. They would be our costumed ambassadors (sort of like Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland), and would wander through the crowd spreading goodwill and cheer. There could also be a tofu character and a seitan character who would argue with each other about who is the better protein).

(A side note about the VegHeads: They could be our ambassadors and icons at events leading up to CVM as well, and could perhaps march in parades, ride in Critical Mass, or wander through street festivals)

• A photo booth where visitors could have their picture taken, possibly against an appropriately unusual background, in one of a number of provided costumes, with a craft project (more on that later), or in some other creatively fun way. We could have a digital printer nearby where one could get (probably purchase for a nominal fee) a commerative print of the day.

A variation or possibly addition to above would be to have a video booth where people could leave a message, tell a story, sing a song, do a dance, or whatever.

• We could have someone edit these photos and/or videos and display them on one or more Jumbotron-like screens at places in the venue. Or to go one step further, we could have wandering photographers and/or videographers working through the crowd and sending their images/footage to the aforementioned editors to display on the screens as well. We could even have them focus attention on each of our exhibitors, so that everyone with a booth gets a shout out from the big screen to help draw more people their way. This could be an extra incentive to get people to exhibit.

• A central bookstore/media store where people can purchase all the best and latest vegan related books and videos, and perhaps also CVM-related paraphrenalia like posters, t-shirts, tote bags, and the like.

• Out in the park surrounding the building, we could host some sort of group games, like kickball or something interesting or unique, or else have some sort off offbeat athletic contests (the Extreme Vegan Olympics?) complete with trophies, medals or other awards.

• A gallery display featuring the history of vegetarianism/veganism and/or famous veg*ns and their achievements.

• Music or other entertainment on the mainstage (in this particular park district building, there is a beautiful stage at the far end of the largest room). The general consensus has been that since this will probably be the main room for vendors and restaurants, that having a series of acts throughout the day might lead to too much cognitive dissonance, but that perhaps it might be nice to have one concert or other performance later in the afternoon after sales have stopped and vendors are breaking down their booths (we're supposed to wrap up by 4:00 under our current plan, though we could, at a cost, extend that.

The Family Area
It seems that there should be a specific place for most of the interactive games and projects (the ones I haven't mentioned yet), and that this should be the children's or family area. It would be great to come up with a clever name for this space that is inviting to both children and adults without children, because the space should include fun things for everyone. Here are some possible ideas for the space:

• A children's entertainment stage.

• Painting a community mural. Variations on this could be painting a community globe or globes (like the Cool Globes Project) or a life-sized cow statue (a la Cows On Parade), or (and this is lifted from a clever idea my son had when he was four) a giant Tofu Turkey - a series of large boxes covered with blank newsprint or off-white primer, and assembled into the shape of a turkey (it's more than six weeks until Thanksgiving, but it might drive a point home, and could encourage a tofu turkey company to sponsor). Another variation is to have a painting table where we encourage people to create paintings on a particular theme (like compassion or animals), and hang them all on a clothesline gallery with clothespins.

• The Evanston Arts Fair has a wonderful group project that I wouldn't mind ripping off or creating some variation of it: They gather a huge pile of sticks from fallen trees, and then laden a huge table with bits of cloth, yarn, string, colored paper, and other interesting objects, and invite visitors use all this to build teepees or other simple structures. Last year it evolved into this fascinating sprawling city that was built by dozens of people, some working together, some independently, over the course of the weekend. It was so much fun and really addictive.

• Animal mask making: We could have a pile of crafting supplies and a series of templates that children could use to create their own animal masks which they could take home with them.

• Musical instrument making: This is something I've always wanted to do. We get a bunch of people to save their toilet paper/wrapping paper/paper towel tubes, and we use them to build musical instruments – either shakers (fill partially with dried beans, seal off each end with wax paper and rubber bands) – or attached to the end of a kazoo and then built into horn shapes. We could also get flexible tubing and make templates for people to build paper cones for the ends of their horns. We could also get materials to build drums, harps, and other instruments.

Dance instruction: Maybe you're starting to catch a pattern here. We have our kids and other friends in their animal masks with their musical instruments. Now we can teach them a song or three that could be played and sung together, and then choreographed into a simple dance routine.

• Leading to: The procession. The children, perhaps led by the Veg Heads, the choreographer/dance instructor, and whatever other colorful characters care to join in could have a procession through the building and around the grounds (if it's nice out). We would probably want to have the processions at specific times, say 12:30 and 3:00 and advertise them well in advance.

• Or even bigger yet: This might be more than we want to bite off, but it could be awesomely cool. Since we A) have all these dressed up kids, critters, and what-have-you, and B) have an event that, as things stand now, wraps up at 4pm, why not have a parade? Of course, the weather could be a factor, but late September-early October is often gorgeous. Last year, the first Veggie Pride parade in New York City was a huge hit, and the promoter of it is really encouraging us to have one in Chicago next year.

If we have a parade, it would be relatively short, just around the neighborhood (perhaps ending at a popular nearby vegan restaurant, which I won't mention the name since we haven't talked to them yet, but if you know the neighborhood you might be able to figure it out). We would have to secure permits and probably face some other hurdles, but I think it would get lots of press and the sponsors would love it.

Also, if it turns out we do have a parade, perhaps one of the interactive events we stage earlier in the day could be to build a float for it. Or we may modify a lot of the activities into preparing for the parade.

Okay, this is a lot of things to consider, some of which are likely more appealing than others, but the purpose here is to start planning an event. Hopefully, this will help a bunch of creative vegans come up with bigger and more audacious ideas. PLEASE COMMENT, CRITIQUE, AND SUGGEST YOUR OWN IDEAS! Read the other comments and comment on them. This is an event for all of us. Let's make it spectacular.