I always seem to get asked the question, “now that the festival is over, what do you do for the rest of the year?” So if you are interested in taking the journey with me, I will take you through what we do each month up until the next festival.
It should be noted that we are always working on two events simultaneously, the current (the upcoming) and the next festival (the year after that) in terms of strategy, marketing, sponsorship, theme, décor and ambience, and much more. This means that although as we get closer to the current festival there is a noticeable increase in time pressure, we are busy throughout the whole year.
So let’s start with April.
April is the month of reflection. Throughout this month there are many meetings where we dissect the festival and see what worked, what didn’t, and where we want to go in the future. There is a staff assessment, a board assessment, and an assessment from each of the many committees that are run and “staffed” all by volunteers who have generously donated their time, talent and expertise to put on a world class event.
The consensus this year:
The Move to Hall G:
95% of visitors and media loved the move to Hall G, although it was not without its challenges. What those looking in sometimes don’t realize is with a move to a different location, whether it is from a venue or just a hall within that venue, a whole new event is created. All those things that you discovered and put into place in the past – stages and rooms, move-in times/docks, booth locations, etc. – are now out the window, and you are essentially starting from scratch.
Luckily we were still in the same facility and using most of the same suppliers which created less snags, but as any event managing/planning team will tell you there are always hiccups.
It is interesting how things you never anticipated can sometimes pop up. For instance, although “Canada Blooms” the festival changed halls the Garden Marketplace did not (it has been in the same location for four years) and yet some people had difficulty finding it. We are currently looking at different strategies to solve this dilemma in the future.
One of the great things about Hall G, which many are not aware of, is Canada Blooms is no longer taking place above the underground parking. What does that mean? Well, garden builder/designers can now build their gardens using materials and styles they couldn’t use before because of weight restrictions. This will allow for more interesting designs, and the lower ceilings really do make the gardens and floral displays stand out.
Final Assessment: the move was seen as very positive and welcome change.
This created some concern from a small minority who we believe didn’t see the full picture when it came to the ambience lighting. Canada Blooms spent a great deal of time planning the lighting for the festival this year. We knew that we were going to be changing the whole look and feel of Canada Blooms, so we made sure to consult a number of lighting professionals. We also fully anticipated there would be some people who might not appreciate the effect, and as it turned out the lighting was something that was either loved or hated . . . nothing in between.
If you caught the Facebook feedback that you would think the festival was dim and grim, but if you followed Twitter it was a wonderful experience. The overall consensus from the visitors at the event and the feedback on social media was that the majority (over 75%) were happy and found the theatrical lighting really set the gardens off.
So now I will let you in on a few secrets about the lighting….
First of all, the lighting grids in the older building were somewhat of a puzzle and a challenge to manipulate. Meaning if you turn off a light in the front left grid you also might turn one of in the back right and somewhere in the middle.
Secondly, the effect of coming from a 100% lit hall (where the National Home Show was on display) to a 50% illuminated hall, forced visitors into an abrupt visual adjustment which made the whole hall appear even darker. But once you let your eyes adjust, the effect in the gardens was quite dramatic.
Another unanticipated consequence of the lighting, discovered onsite, were the lighting boxes. They ended up right next to support pillars and for safety reasons; they had to be covered with a hard wall which resulted in unintended visual barriers much smaller aisles.
Final Assessment: The lighting for the most part was positive and we have learned a few things that will make the dramatic lighting better for 2016.
Whoa Nellie, it was cool in there this year.
We have always had to maintain lower temperatures in the hall displaying gardens and floral features in order to keep the flowers from popping too soon. When we moved from a 5- to a 10-day event, we became aware that there would have to be a replacement the plant/floral material part way through in order to maintain the quality of the event. Since 2012, we have designated Monday/Tuesday as the change over night (note: although the festival starts on Friday many of our plants come in the Saturday prior to the festival start in order to be placed in the gardens and planters during the build).
One of the unexpected things that caused lower temperatures this year was due to new fire regulations at the facility, this required additional access doors be left open which in turn let frigid air into the hall from outside. As well, the somewhat variable heating that comes from an older building (think lighting grid above) meant some plants received more heat and some received less, resulting in us simultaneously trying to keep plants from drying out (and appearing past their prime) and trying to get them to bloom. Needless to say, some of bulbs did not actually bloom until the last few days of the festival which led to a somewhat lack of colour and fragrant odor.
Final Assessment: we now have a better understanding of the temperature issues in Hall G and that is a priority for next year.
I found the issue of smell a little strange because we had been in the building for a number of days setting up prior to the festival and had no issues. But during the festival we had a few people mention that they could smell the cattle from the building (Hall G is used as the animal building during the Royal Winter Fair). So both Festival and Building management did a complete walk through of the hall again like detectives hot on the trail of the elusive “odor” menace. And we think we found the culprit or culprits – the odor was not a distant manure smell, but was in fact the earth from the gardens mingled with a new mulch that was used this year. This gave the gardens a more earthy smell, and that coupled with the lower ceilings as well as delayed in bulbs flowering may have caused people to believe they were smelling something they actually weren’t.
One last thing to note is that we created an impressive allee of tropicals that lined the roadway carpet leading to Canada Blooms, but the tropicals that we actually used were lush plants rather than blooming flowers and as a result of this changeup there was not that fresh fragrance of Spring that we had all hoped for.
Final Assessment: we are aware and it is being re-evaluated for our twentieth anniversary.
So we have hashed and rehashed the good, the bad, and the not so bad, and we are now hard at work on the plans for making our twentieth anniversary a very special festival.
Also in April: the administrative side of things, invoicing, paying invoices, getting all the details out of the way so that we can move on to 2016. We also start meeting with our partners to gain their insights on how the festival worked for them, so we can create an even better festival next year.