Notes from the Producers
Jake Holler and Jon Ray were the Co-Producers of YOUtopia 2016. They led a team of 26 departments organized into 5 hubs. Most departments consisted of 2 leads with a total of 49 people involved in the core leads team.
Jake Holler has been involved with YOUtopia since 2010 with 4 years as Art Grant Lead, 2 years as Producer, and 3 years on the SDCAP Board of Directors.
Jon Ray has been involved with YOUtopia since 2011 with 3 years as Producer, 1 year as LNT Lead and 3 years as President of the SDCAP Board of Directors.
Here are their notes on this year’s event:
What an amazing YOUtopia! I am so proud of our Leads Team and Volunteers for organizing what is easily the best YOUtopia yet! We kicked off our planning in March by interviewing everyone who was interested in being a Department Lead. It worked well to have a face-to-face at CoLab or video call with everyone to talk about our pre-event planning, their potential role, our expectations of them and any questions they had.
During the interviews, we asked every lead what their motivation was for being involved. The main 3 responses that nearly everyone touched on was that they wanted more high-quality interpersonal relationships, they wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves and they wanted to give back to the community. Learning this helped me realize what my main role was for the team. I worked to find ways to promote stronger relationships among the leads, and I made a conscious effort to keep our motivations, our “whys”, in the background of all our activities.
Once the interviews were done and roles determined we held monthly lead meetings. We spent the first 20-30 minutes of each meeting on an ice-breaker, the next 45-60 minutes on topics relevant to the whole group, then we broke into hub groups to finish off the official meeting. After 2 hours total, we would “soft-close” the meeting by turning on some music, letting the first beers be cracked and encouraging everyone to chill for a bit. This meeting format was very effective in getting high-quality communication and interaction among the departments, and it gave more social time to the team. Most of the social time was shop talk anyway, so we ended up with pretty good communication across the departments and hubs.
During the event, we held a daily meeting in the commissary at noon to discuss anything that was relevant to the whole group or that needed input from more than just a couple departments. This worked great to keep us all informed of the larger picture, and to keep communication flowing well even though we were spread out all over YOUtopia most of the day.
My experience as Producer in 2011 and 2012 were much different than my third year as Producer in 2016. The first 2 years were more entrepreneurial with most of the time and effort going towards figuring out how each department would work, how we would sell tickets, how we would setup gate, how we would give out art grants etc. We’ve learned and tweaked things every year since, and the departments have evolved and matured. This year was the smoothest production yet, and it’s safe to say we’ve figured this out pretty well. No SOP’s have been written, though, so we rely heavily on institutional knowledge. As a result we see a certain amount of re-inventing the wheel every year. We identified the need for SOP’s early this year and have been developing a collaborative way to write a how-to manual for YOUtopia.
What I’m most happy about this year is the overwhelming positive response from our leads team on the post-event feedback form. 68% of the leads said they definitely want to return as a lead next year, and 26% of the leads said they probably want to.
I see the various successes of YOUtopia this year as a healthy sign of the state of our community, and in particular our lead team.
Wow! My 10th Youtopia! It was easily my personal best yet. It was also the smoothest production I’ve seen in my 7 years volunteering with the event (not to toot my own horn or anything). I’d say this is mostly due to our amazing team of leads and volunteers. It’s kind of like we’re starting to know what we’re doing. Seriously though, we had a lot of return team members and over the years they have built the skills and knowledge necessary to put on a rock solid event.At this point a lot of the building of the yearly Youtopia puzzle has already been done. It really seemed like most of the departments were fairly self sufficient and it was left to Jon and myself to make sure that the whole thing kept on track and rolling. We did spend a good amount of effort on smoothing out interpersonal relations among the team. As we now have such a large leads team with so many departments depending on each other and such a wide variety of personalities, conflicts invariably arise. One of my big take aways of the whole experience was that working through these conflicts is one of the main duties of the producer role and that doing so in a consistent and amiable manner pays off for the event in a big way. Making sure all your staff is content, or even better, happy and having a good experience is paramount to having this type of volunteer run event work so well and probably is just as important in any organization. Other producer responsibilities such as negotiating the venue contract and coordinating with the venue staff also went particularly well. This was to my understanding the first year that getting a signed contract did not require multiple meetings with the LJIR tribal council. Business was handled mostly by email and only one trip to the site was necessary to sign the contract and deliver the deposit. I feel like our relationship with the tribe is well and hopefully this will be the new standard. The campground staff definitely seem to enjoy working with us. They had the site in very good condition when we arrived and to my knowledge all of our special needs had already been seen to or were handled expediently. Security and Medical contractors also did a great job and I would fully recommend that we retain their services in the future. Having thorough interviews with all leads even if they were returning, at the beginning of the season, was something we had skipped the year before and I believe that was an important step and am glad to know it will be continuing. Part of our negotiation with the venue this year included an extra day at the venue. Members of our community have been wanting to see the duration of the event extended for several years now and even though we used this day to extend strike I see this as a soft opening for a longer event. We used the advantage of this extra day to throw a really proper volunteer appreciation party for our staff, volunteers, and members of large theme camps and art projects that could benefit from the relieved stress of a longer strike. The extra day allowed these individuals to really let loose on sunday night (the volunteeer party) and enjoy themselves, which was great since many had been working through much of the event. I think a lot of these people really enjoyed this extra perk and I think that similar perks are a very important way to show appreciation for all of the people who come together to make our event possible. I strongly encourage the event make this a tradition. It made strike a much more pleasant experience. Over all I would say that in spite of the respective difficulites of the last two years it was our cohesiveness as a team and our long standing dedication that really made the event and that goes for our entire community as well as the production team.
As for things that could go a little better, I think that a higher level of communication between parking staff, security, Waldos(event info and communication stations), and city planning could make for a much smoother ingress. A more concerted effort to put up signage would seriously complement that coordination and possibly reduce staffing needs in the previously mentioned departments. In order to support more of our interorganizational relationships I believe that one or more staff ombudspersons could be very helpful. Our community ombuds is great but to have people that were known and regularly interacted with our production team could be very beneficial. Our LNT plan could definitely use some adjustments. While the general event LNT went well (camps mostly handled their own) our production LNT could have done better. Operations camp, which had trash and recycling bins available, could do for a bit more planning. I would recommend that if bins are to be provided they be placed in a more secure area and that a better system of sorting be implemented. Such as separate bins be provided for aluminum, plastic, cardboard, compostables, and land fill. Another problem was that campground staff prematurely returned the site trash bins to their usual locations. They did so on monday afternoon which is the day they would have done it at our previous events but due to the extended day on site there were still many participants onsite and when a trash bin is accessible most people tend to use them. The easy fix should be to simply make the campground staff aware of this issue. I think the policy of the new production leads to pick hub leads first and then involve them in the process of choosing department leads will help match the hubs with leads that can work together well. which will make for an even more polished event in the future.