McPherson has hosted the annual Scottish Festival for over 20 years, so it's going to take some getting used to calling it the McPherson Festival of Cultures instead as we transition from the annual festival focusing solely on Scottish history and society into a focus that's more international and representative of our local community.
Dianna Carter and Alisha Mervin are the new co-chairs of the festival that takes place every fall in September in McPherson's Lakeside Park. Yesterday at the city commission's weekly study session, Carter spoke about some of the changes she hopes to see at this year's Festival as well as what will not be changing as McPherson goes forward with this transition.
“It's still going to have all of the elements that have been there in the past as a Scottish Festival,” explained Carter. “We are not getting rid of that at all.... It's just going to be adding some new things and just doing a few changes, but it will still have the Scottish flavor.”
One of the big changes Carter is hoping to help make happen is the addition of a beer garden, which will require an amendment to the current city code and the special event retailer's permit to allow beer to be sold and consumed on the festival grounds. It has been harder to compete with other festivals that already allow beer and other alcohol and Carter sees it as a good boost to get more locals to attend the event that has drawn fewer and fewer people over recent years.
“As you know, we have not had a lot of participation at the Scottish Festival over the last few years,” Carter said as she addressed the members of the city commission. “At one time they had as many as 9,000 people participate in this. But it has gone down to just a little over two [thousand], I believe, last year.”
Carter also hopes to boost local attendance at the Festival by changing the cost of admission.
“I've heard so many people say, 'I will not pay that price for a ticket to go to this festival at my town... I don't represent the Scottish heritage, and also I'm just not going to pay that.' So we really want to bring the tickets down to be able to let a lot of people from this area go the festival and feel that they can afford it.”
Another challenge to festival attendance presented itself a couple of years ago when St. Louis, Missouri, decided to start their own event on the same weekend McPherson hosts theirs. About 85 percent of festival attendees have been estimated to come from outside the McPherson area and from other parts of the country. Expanding the focus of the local festival might give McPherson an edge over other festivals while still continuing to be the premier location for the Scottish Highland Games, a tradition that isn't expected to change just because the festival is changing its name.
“We are in a transition year to try to make this a festival for, number one, many more people in the local area, we hope, for people who just weren't interested in the Scottish Festival,” said Carter. “I think it's worth a try to do the things we can do to make this a festival for McPherson and the local area.
“And the thing, too, to remember is that we are celebrating cultures, so it's cultures here as well, not just international.”
This may be a make it or break it year for McPherson in hosting the annual festival. However, Carter is very excited about how these changes may help ensure that McPherson is not only able to host this festival for many more years to come, but that the festival will begin to appeal to more local residents along with the faithful participants who have attended from parts all over for over 20 years.