You may think you know everything about the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. After all, this highly anticipated, warm weather, Downtown Ann Arbor month-long party is the ultimate Townie hangout. If you grew up in Washtenaw County, you went to Top of The Park every June.
But chances are there are at least a few details you’ve never heard. Current is here with the scoop on Summer Fest: the latest and greatest additions to 2017, as well as some of the little known challenges the organizers are facing now to create a yearly summer program that’s as fresh and innovative as people come to know and love.
Six nights a week for four weeks, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival attracts up to 150,000 festival-goers – that adds up to more than 175 events at which a whopping ninety percent are admission-free. If you’ve been every year for the past 34 years and are hankering for something new BEYOND the star-studded performances, events, great food vendors, and – oh yeah! – free movies, Ann Arbor Summer Festival Executive and Artistic Director Amy Nesbitt and her team have something BRAND new for you.
This year, A2SF is introducing a new tented event space at Top of the Park called “The Annex,” where partners like the Ann Arbor Public Library are collaborating to create new events like “The Buzz,” which is a game like a spelling bee, but for adults – with adult beverages. “Tuesday Trivia Nights,” “Issues and Ale” with the Michigan Radio team, “Nerd Night,” and last but not least, “Night Life Arcade,” where old-school arcade games are brought in for lovers of antique video games.
But how do they do it? Excellent planning and top-notch efficiency is the name of the game at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival in the months leading to June. And it has to be, because compared to many other nonprofits that produce programming on such a large scale, their team is extremely small with only three-and-a-half people on staff at A2SF – who practically define “efficiency.” The team does everything from structure the budget to write the schedule. And now, with cuts to national funding, it could all be in jeopardy.
“We write grants, we ask for donations, we try and get corporate sponsorships to underwrite what we do,” says Amy Nesbitt, before admitting that only two per cent of funds needed each year come from grants requested of the University of Michigan and City of Ann Arbor.
“The reality is that much of the festival is funded through grants we write to the National Endowment for the Arts. If that goes away, so does such special event programming as Spectacle. Unfortunately, unless the funding is found from some other magical source, the programming will suffer.”
By default, if A2SF’s programming suffers, the local non-profit organizations that collaborate with and contribute to it will suffer too. “We work with about six dozen non-profits within the community, so when people elevate us, we’re also elevating 60 other non-profits in the area,” says Nesbitt.
Thus, Amy Nesbitt concludes that the A2SF will need be more vocal in reaching out to community festival-goers for donations and ask them to think of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival as the charity of choice at year’s end when writing a check to a favorite non-profit organizations. What better way to give than by helping to sustain all of the local non-profit vendors collaborating under the helm of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and contributing to the future of one of Ann Arbor’s most beloved annual events.
Ann Arbor Summer Festival
June 6-July 2
Downtown Ann Arbor