Selena Hodom takes over the Ithaca Festival at a turbulent time, as group gatherings around the world are being canceled and the festival itself has had financial difficulties over the last several days. With a long background in event planning and music festival organization, Hodom brings a wealth of experience to the position and wants to make the festival bigger and better in the coming years… as long as it happens, currently scheduled for May 28-31 with an “Out of this World” theme. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
IT: What made you want to be involved with Ithaca Fest?
SH: I have been involved in the Ithaca Festival since 2014. My role has been coordinating the Operations and Technical Direction of the Festival. I have handled the staffing for those teams as well as coordinated with our contractors for the live production, site layout and build.
IT: What do you think you bring to the director's role?
SH: I have been planning and promoting events since 2005. I have worked with a number of industry leaders on National Tours and site builds, as well as worked with nonprofit events and organizations to help them build their events and shape their strategies. I have been active in all aspects of community event planning at one time or another. I believe I offer an institutional knowledge of the Ithaca Festival as well as the real world knowledge from the additional work I have done around the country over my career.
IT: At least since last year, we've heard of the financial problems for Ithaca Fest. What's the immediate plan to handle those in 2020?
SH: I have worked with the Ithaca Festival Board to create a strategy for 2020. The immediate plan was to reduce spending and to create strategic partnerships with our vendors to reduce our overhead. We revamped and re-energized our sponsorship program, and have expanded our offerings in an attempt to appeal to anyone that would like to participate in the festival. This plan will include coalitions of businesses that will band together to create programming at the Ithaca Festival. In the coming weeks, we will roll out an individual and small business donation program as well. We have applied for additional grant funding in support of our event, which has been going really well.
IT: Is there a long-term plan?
SH: The long term plan is to create a larger, more suitable event for a city of this size. Ithaca and Tompkins County area have so much to offer people that want to visit. The festival is small in comparison to other community festivals. Our goal is to support that with a National Sponsorship program and National Grant Programs in the near future.
IT: How can people help the festival?
SH: Leading up to the event people can make a tax deductible donation through our paypal: paypal.me/ithacafestival. Participation in the festival is important; small participation fees add up. It's a good way to have fun while supporting the event. Signing up non-profit groups to table, food vend, participate in the parade or craft fair, food vend, or by providing live art—there are so many options and all of the applications are available on our new website, Ithacafestival.org. Businesses are encouraged to sign up for sponsorships, offer discounts through our button program, or donate as well. During the festival, attendees can buy a button, merchandise from our official booth, and purchase from our vendors. This all supports what we are trying to do for the community.
IT: What kind of background do you have in event planning?
SH: I am currently the Talent Buyer for Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival, and the Production Manager for both the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival and the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival. I have a small production company, Mind's Eye Event Productions, that provides staffing assistance to major festivals and events as well as production support, consulting, logistics, site planning and ticketing. I have produced music festivals and events since 2005.
IT: Do you want to bring anything new to the festival?
SH: The biggest change this year will be to the Press Bay Alley Stage in the Ithaca Journal Parking Lot. This stage will be sponsored by the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival. This area will feature a farmer's market type area with locally produced or grown products. The main goals this year are to perfect what we already have and stabilize the budget to ensure the future. We will add some of our business groups and businesses to our official programming. Also, we will have pop-up fundraisers at local businesses.
IT: Acknowledging that the festival is three months away, how are you guys planning to navigate the COVID-19 situation?
SH: Without saying, events like ours will need to follow the advice of the CDC, WHO, the Federal and New York State, County, and City guidelines, and consult with State and County Health Departments on best practices to be able to host an event when the time comes. This strategy will be laid out as the guidelines become more clear on what we need to do to protect the health and safety of our community, performers, vendors and event staff. There is a lot of uncertainty right now with mass gatherings, and we will do what is in the best interest of our community to protect everyone's health and safety above all else.
IT: If Ithaca Festival is cancelled, as so many others have been, would that permanently kill the festival considering its financial struggles?
SH: Arts organizations, entertainers and events in general are very vulnerable at this time. I believe most likely a great deal of the population is also feeling the effects of this. It is uncertain how we would proceed at this time in the event of cancellation, we should be able to roll over most of the participants and sponsors to a future date. That plan will take form as it needs to. I can say that there is a group of people, the Board of Directors and myself, that have really pulled together to keep this Organization alive in our community. We feel that the Ithaca Festival is a very valuable part of celebrating Ithaca and the arts. I don't believe the festival is going anywhere in the near future and that may mean a whole lot of community good will and hard work. I think we are up for the challenge.