Blog: Andrew Clock

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. - Betty Reese
Water Street Trail Project founder Andrew Clock, volunteer coordinator of the Michigan Roots Jamboree and barfly philanthropist, offers the pick-me-ups to prove that no one is ever a speck on the wall.

Just What is a Community Festival?

Ypsilanti, like a lot of Southeast Michigan communities, is pretty diverse. Our residents are a broad collection of race, creed, age, and interests. So, how does a community event cater to such a broad group of people? This has got to be one of the toughest questions I face as the director of the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.

The short answer, to be honest, is I probably can't cater to everyone. But what I can do is try to marshal my limited resources to get as close to the ideal as I can. With the help of the steering committee and community partners, I feel like the possibilities are endless.

The Heritage Festival, I feel, is one of the last of the traditional breed of civic festivals. We are a free event, and we offer a chance for many local organizations to set up a booth, interact with the community, and hold their own fundraisers. We have some entertainment, a beer tent, carnie food, and everything else you would expect. The problem though, is that it's gone on the same way for so long it's started to lose its relevance. Everybody knows what they are going to get. Some people love our festival for that, some are tired of it and want something new. Maybe of all the challenges we have this year, that's the biggest one; how do we become more relevant to more people without alienating the people who love us for who we are?

We decided to start with putting the Heritage back into the festival. The historical aspect of the event has faded over the years.  The historical encampment with re-enactors faded away, educational programs became less important. There were still aspects of historical education; the historic home tour will always be a fixture, and last year's World War II exhibit was fantastic, but, as it turns out, people really do want to learn more about the history of Ypsilanti.

 We are lucky to have a very strong History committee, and they have chosen to focus on  Chautauqua, the tradition of using oral history, re-enactment, music, teachers, and culture to teach history. Our program will focus on the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and will coincide with the dates of the surrender of Detroit to the British. In fact, our historians tell me that the American Army may well have retreated to a place near Godfroy's Trading post, the settlement that later became Ypsilanti. I think it's fantastic, and I hope I have time to hear some of the speakers myself! Maybe more important, I think it will give the people what they want, the heritage back in their Heritage Festival.

History has never been the only driver of our festival. It has always been about the community, and the organizations that help make Ypsilanti what it is. That's something I want to build on, and I hope to bring more local organizations into the fold, and involve them in a bigger way. I want to see Community Records LC3 and 826 Michigan presenting programs for kids and teens, I want to see Eastern Michigan University all over the place, Ypsilanti schools too. Our museums, clubs, organizations, veterans, and houses of worship of all stripes. Nat Edmunds, our founder, has pointed out to me that bringing these groups together was the whole point of the festival, and that isn't lost on me. These groups are the fabric of Ypsilanti.

Something else that our festival has always been about is a good community party. One thing I have learned in my years in Ypsilanti is we do like to have a party. To that end, I want the best beer tent and entertainment in town. Local bands, puppet shows, fire breathers, dancers, and anything else from Southeast Michigan that seems like it would be fun and draw a crowd. School reunions, private gatherings, or any other reason to get together are welcome too. Now, I'll admit, when it comes to entertainment I consider Detroit to still be local, but don't get me wrong, Ypsilanti will be well represented. I mean, really, why bring the people together if you can't have a good time?

I hope we have the answers. I hope that we can produce a festival that makes our residents proud. Something that a new visitor will be impressed with and our life long visitors will be comfortable with. Somewhere all of the folks and Ypsilanti feel comfortable and want to mingle. I think we have a pretty good handle on it, but I hope you'll come be the judge.