Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Business and the Arts: Case Study #2

Ness Creek Music Festival

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In 2004, Saskatchewan Arts Alliance conducted a project to research the service relationship between arts and business. The project resulted in Business and the Arts: Service Relationship Indicators Final Report, and six case studies illustrating a number of concepts and principles described in the report.

The following case study on the Ness Creek Music Festival, second in a series of six case studies, reinforces the concept of cultural activity adding to quality of life and contributing to increased tourism.

For a copy of the Business and the Arts Final Report, contact the SAA at (306)780-9820 or
outreach@artsalliance.sk.ca. An Executive Summary of the report is available on the SAA website at Business and the Arts Final Report.


The Ness Creek Cultural and Recreational Society is a non-profit organization that exists primarily to create an annual festival to celebrate Music, Arts, Community and Ecology in the Boreal Forest in northern Saskatchewan. Each July, this four-day event features musicians from Saskatchewan, Canada and abroad. A number of other activities take place too, like the Community Sharing Circle, Community Kitchen, Children’s Area & Workshops, Afternoon Music Workshops, and Drumming Circle. Patrons can purchase Saskatchewan handmade products and tempt their palettes with a variety of food.

Originally, the Festival began as a small event, created by three individuals who were interested in music and local community development. They saw the Festival as a way to increase visitation to the area – Big River and the Nesslin Lake Campground – while enjoying a variety of artistic activities in the great outdoors. Although a number of local businesses got on board in the beginning, not all of the area residents were thrilled with the concept.

The event is held on private land and is promoted as “rustic” camping. In the beginning years, tents, a bunkhouse trailer, power generators, etc. were borrowed from Smokey Lake Treeplanters and Roots Reforestation, both locally owned companies in the Big River region. Picnic tables were provided by Nesslin Lake campground and water tanks were provided by Clearwater Greenhouses. As the event grew, infrastructure improvements became necessary – roads needed to be built, electrical systems put into place, permanent structures were required. Local carpenters provided scaffolding, and construction companies provided quads and labour. In exchange for the equipment and services, Ness provided businesses with complimentary tickets to the event.

Those businesses that provided support liked the concept of the festival. They understood how it added to the quality of life in the area, and they knew, over time, it would reap many benefits for the region. Ness organizers say that, generally, those who contributed were just “good people” and not every business was looking for something in return for their contribution. Requests for support almost always came from people living in the area and were made to business people those folks knew personally.

Although Ness was able to get a number of local businesses to buy into the concept of the event increasing visitation in the area and generating economic benefits for the town of Big River, a number of people saw the event as a bunch of hippies partying in the woods. Ness needed to turn this negative view around and they wanted to show businesses in Big River how the event supported them, so they started to invite local business people to the event. Once there, the misconception about the “party in the woods” was dispelled, and more and more businesses started to come on board.

One business that has supported the festival for a number of years is the Big River restaurant, “Third & Main”. The business purchases ads in the Ness Creek Journal (published three to four times per year) and has joined the group of restaurants providing food at the event. One of the reasons for Third & Main’s support has been Ness’ key focus on community development and supporting local businesses. The owners also see the event benefiting the region’s tourism. The Ness Creek Festival has brought people into the area who return at other times of the year to partake in the beautiful scenery at Nesslin Lake, a short distance from the town of Big River. Third & Main sees a direct return on investment through their participation as a food vendor at the event and through new customers coming to their restaurant on the way to or from the lake.

Ness admits its efforts to sustain these relationships could be improved. They provide complimentary tickets to the event and Big River people involved with the organization keep area residents informed about developments as the festival nears each year. But their efforts to involve and support local businesses have paid off. The Big River Chamber of Commerce now buys a full page ad in the festival program. The Chamber realized that more and more of its member businesses were supporting the event (by seeing ads in the Journal and festival program) and they felt it important to show their support as well.

Ness organizers say arts organizations should simply ask for what they need. It is important for organizations to understand that there are many reasons a business will contribute cash donations, sponsorships, or in-kind services or equipment; and it’s not always about reaping a return on investment. Ness knows personal connections are important and that each organization should ask well-connected and well-liked people to approach a business for support. It is important for groups to utilize people who travel in different social circles. For Ness, the organization includes treeplanters and loggers – an unlikely combination to get along – and people from both these walks of life make connections with business people to develop long-term relationships with the organization.

Ness always promoted the concept of the event boosting tourism and they continue to do so by providing examples to businesses they are approaching about other successful initiatives like the murals in Chemanius, B.C (a town which sees hundreds of thousands visitors each year since the murals have been created). Some businesses ‘got it’ (i.e. the tourism connection) right away; others took longer to see the benefits, but today the area has seen an increase in tourism and expenditures because of the Ness Creek Music Festival.

Business and the Arts: Service Relationship Indicators Final Report and supplementary case studies were funded by SaskCulture and Saskatchewan Lotteries through a Cultural Assistance Program Strategic Initiatives Project.

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