Rotary pleased with first shot at running Hay Days festival

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Olivia Gibbons – on a team from Ashton Chartered Accountants – competes in the Art Attack! corporate art challenge on July 7.

The Rotary Club of Hay River Sunrise can now look back at its first time organizing the Hay Days Music, Arts and Culture Festival.

And it is generally happy with what it sees.

“The Rotary Club, I think, was really pleased with the way the thing came out,” said Tom Lakusta, the organization’s president. “It was an awful lot of work.”

The Rotary Club was instrumental in reviving Hay Days, which was not held in 2016 after running for the six years before that.

Lakusta said Rotary started planning for the event last summer, put in funding applications last fall and organized a management committee earlier this year to starting planning in earnest in January and February.

That committee consisted mainly of Rotarians, but also a couple of key people who had been involved in organizing previous Hay Days.

“It was a learning experience,” said Lakusta. “We knew what we wanted to try to accomplish, and everything we wanted to accomplish we were able to accomplish.”

The work involved such things as lining up corporate sponsors, attracting volunteers, organizing workshops, inviting musicians, and much more.

Lakusta said everything came together for the festival from July 4 to 8.

“Some events were very successful,” he said. “Other events were not as successful as we had hoped. However, that’s all part of learning.”

Lakusta said craft workshops held early in the festival were very popular, especially among children.

The Saturday night Shaker adult dance at the Hay River Beach on July 8 was also very popular, as it has been in the past.

Lakusta said other events were good, but the Rotary Club will look at how to improve them.

For example, he noted the Friday, July 7, day at the beach for all ages was going extremely well, but people with families left sooner – at about 9 p.m. – than organizers expected.

“They had their day at the beach and their day at Hay Days,” said Lakusta. “However, we continued the music right through to 10 or 11, but there wasn’t a lot of uptake at that point.”

The festival will also look to feature more indigenous and Filipino culture and music.

Lakusta said the Rotary Club will be doing some “forensic analysis” of the overall event to determine what to present next year or to stay with roughly the same events with improvements.

The Rotary president said it is too early to tell if any events will be dropped from next year’s festival.

“Because events that didn’t go as well as we had hoped, there are reasons for that,” he said. “And those reasons may not be the event itself. It may be the way the event was planned or advertised.”

This year was unique in that Hay Days occurred at the same time as a number of Canada 150 events by the Town of Hay River.

“It wasn’t a conflict,” said Lakusta. “But it meant that the town was extremely busy all week.”

Hay Days will also look at how it can better integrate with events being presented by the Town of Hay River.

Mayor Brad Mapes said the extra events from the town were supposed to be a one-year thing.

“But I think there are a lot of things that went well that we could build off,” he said, pointing, for example, to a very successful fish fry.

Mapes said activities attract visitors to the town, and are good for community wellness.

As an example, he pointed to the Show & Shine of unique vehicles.

“That was well-attended and it was great for the community,” he said.

Mapes did not see any conflict between the town events and Hay Days.

“I think it went hand in hand,” he said. “I think the groups kind of made sure that they weren’t doubling in areas, and I think it went great.”

The mayor expects some of the town events will return next year, particularly the fish fry and the Show & Shine.

-Paul Bickford