It’s been a little over three months since I was named executive director of Rogue Festival and I’m still wrapping my head around what I call this “beautiful beast”. An organization that depends upon the generosity of so many volunteers, the commitment of artists from all over Fresno and across the country, and the endurance and interest of thousands of awesome audience-members . . . well, it often feels like it can teeter on the brink of disaster.
But I’ll tell you what. . . it hasn’t! Barbara Coy-Hogan guided the beast through two years of intense evolution and growth that has given Rogue a bright future. And she did it on the foundations laid by every Rogue producer, staff member, and volunteer that came before her, all the way back to 2001. Rogue Festival has roots that go deeper and wider than I think people have truly understood.
Aside from spending the last three months learning the ins and outs of the behind-the-scenes machinery of the festival, I’ve also tried to spend this time getting to know better the human element of Rogue. I’ve had one-on-one conversations with current year-round staff, the hardcore volunteers joined me for a two hour chat about what’s going right and where they feel the ship can correct course somewhat. I’ve spoken with former Rogue producers and I look forward to hearing from a few more very soon. Everyone who has ever been with the Rogue as a long-time volunteer, a venue manager, a staff member. . . these folks all have a deep and abiding love for this Festival and what it stands for.
What it stands for. If you didn’t already know, it isn’t who bears the title of “executive director” that keeps these people engaged with the Rogue Festival. It never has been. It’s been “what it stands for”. The values it represents and which, if they were to slip away, would prevent people from coming back again. I heard it over and over again from our fantastic community, things like:
- We value that we have a voice here. I can express my opinion. I can be candid. I’m allowed to think for myself and express it. . . and I’ll be heard.
- We value that the art is different. It is about being from the outside, on the fringe, being different and taking joy in that.
- We value the self-reliance of it. These people put together their own shows and take ownership of their own work.
- We value the community. . . the audiences are so enthusiastic and volunteers so supportive and friendly. It’s like getting together once a year with people that you know value you.
- We value that the art and the people aren’t pre-judged. The 1st Amendment is alive here. The audiences decide what gets attention and what doesn’t. We vote with our attendance. The audience has as much power here as the artist (and vice versa!).
- We value that it is organic- the Rogue grows or shrinks as needed so it is always about an enthusiastic people being here.
- We value that it is about people more than it is about being commercial or slick. We value planning, but we also value humans and their creativity and occasional messiness.
- We value creating a culture. . . a culture that is built by Fresnans in Fresno and connects with the outside world.
- We value being “Rogue”. . . we’re more than a fringe festival. . . we’re The Rogue Festival.
Having a voice. Art that’s different. Taking joy. Self-reliance. Personal ownership. Community. Enthusiasm. Creating Culture. Being Human. Going Rogue.
I once said that I wanted to create something that was “uniquely Fresnan — not trying to be an imitation of something else or yearning to be somewhere else, but an organization and aesthetic rooted squarely in Fresno.” I was a fool. It was here all along.
My job from here on out is to simply make sure that this beautiful beast continues to live and breathe its beauty, reveling in its beastliness. Which is actually just its humanness, it turns out.
There will be a few small changes here and there. . . some things adjusted to make absolutely certain that the needs of the community are tended to. To put the art, artist, volunteers, and audiences front and center in this Fresno springtime ritual.
We all hope you’ll add your unique point of view to the mix in 2017!
All the best,
PS - If you’re a performer reading this, applications for our 2017 festival go live on October 1st. Basic information is here. Full information on venues and what to prep for applications will be up after September 10th. The Rogue Festival is a First Amendment Zone, so if you have something to express. . . get an app in early! The slots fill up fast! -HP