In pursuing a Communication Studies degree with a broad array of interests, it can be difficult to find a job or internship that seems like the right fit. Luckily, I found mine by working at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival 2014.
My official title was “Portrait Program Coordinator”, where I worked for local photographer Benjamin Weatherston, commissioned by the Festival. Aside from helping Ben with what limited knowledge I had of photography, my duties were very diverse. They ranged from completing model releases for both musicians and patrons, to scheduling photography sessions with musicians, to tracking them down and begging them to get their portraits taken. I also interviewed patrons and musicians about their experiences at the Festival in effort to get a sense of their characters as well as the overall Festival demographic. For the portraits and interviews, the overarching goal was to really capture a sense of diversity.
In true Ann Arbor fashion, the diversity I saw at the Festival was what really made it interesting. Working any job from five until ten at night in the summer can seem drawn out, but the photography tent presented me with something pleasantly different each day. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival had so many different events going on simultaneously, and from my privileged position at the photography tent, I got to see and interact with almost all of them. For this reason, I found the work to be especially stimulating. One day I held a snake brought to the Kidzone tent by the Leslie Science Center, while on another we invited some members of AcroYoga Ann Arbor to have their photos taken, and I even received an impromptu lesson! It was this amazing sense of collaboration, discovery, and community I encountered throughout working the Festival that really set this experience apart for me.
Amidst all of the fun and games, I did manage to learn some very important lessons about working at a festival. While they may seem abstract, these lessons were hard-learned, and I imagine they will be invaluable moving forward towards my future career in working at music, or other types of festivals.
The first is simple, but paramount: flexibility. In an environment where there are so many moving parts, one will perish in an attempt to nail everything down at once. There is always something that needs fixing, or attention needed elsewhere. I found this especially true when working with the Festival’s musicians. An important takeaway I realized was that, at times, artists can be extremely difficult to pin down, and sometimes you don’t get what you want. Flexibility is very important in dealing with these types of situations.
Next is persuasion. Part of my job was to entice patrons and musicians alike to pose for portraits. Usually, it was not too difficult. I found people generally enjoyed having their pictures taken, and artists liked gaining free promotional materials, but at times less famous people needed to be persuaded. My time at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival helped me learn how to adapt my approaches based on each person’s responses, in order to maximize my persuasive power.
Lastly, my time at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival helped me realize the real importance of helpfulness and availability. At festivals where so much is happening simultaneously, there is potential for things to go wrong very quickly, and often at inopportune times. This phenomenon often results in staff shortages, requiring all hands on deck. I learned this summer that working a festival requires long hours, constant availability, and a perpetually positive attitude. While it may have been grueling at times, I could not be happier with the way my time at the Festival turned out. I have earned some invaluable experience that is sure to help complement and round out my Communications Studies degree from the University of Michigan.
Written by: Macey Hallstedt