Independents’ Day Grows from Bootstrapped Festival to Three-Day Celebration

It’s Independents’ Day this weekend. That’s right – Independents’ day in the middle of September, although ‘day’ doesn’t do the festival justice anymore.

Bringing together all things local, from musicians to crafters, to foodie-preneurs and beer-brewers, not to mention businesses, startups, fashion designers and even two of the city’s most popular dance parties, “The festival is a celebration of people who are doing cool things in Columbus,” says Wolf Starr, who is in charge of sponsorship for the festival. “It’s us taking all them and putting them in one area and giving them a stage and a platform to be shown off for the city.”

When it started in 2008, Independents’ Day was a one-day affair that closed down Gay Street with one stage, local beer sponsors and anyone who wanted to bring a 10-by-10 foot tent and set up shop for the day. The festival operated on a few thousand dollar budget.

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The festival grew the second year, attracting some assistance from the Special Improvement District. However, it was operating mostly on personal checks and promises of indentured servitude if beer sales didn’t make enough money to pay the staging company.

By 2010, “We had more beer trucks, more crafters, more groups in the alley and we started bringing in some other sponsorships,” Starr says. However the festival was still fully-funded by beer sales. A rainy day could mean disaster with costs personally falling back on organizers.

“We are lucky to have a core group of passionate, visionary, DIY-minded volunteer organizers who are willing to work themselves into the ground to pull this festival off year after year,” says Erin Corrigan, Independents’ Day board member. “While we love being resourceful and hands-on in all aspects of the event, it becomes more taxing as the festival grows. Our sponsors make the heavy lifting a lot easier.”

For 2014, the Independents’ Day is a three-day event with a preview night Friday, a jam-packed Saturday, and solid lineup on Sunday, and a long list of sponsors.

This year’s sponsors include the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Orange Barrel Media, CoverMyMeds, Car2Go, Jeni’s, Kaufman Development, Mikey’s Late Night Slice, South Campus Gateway and Gallerie Bistro + Bar.

“We are excited and grateful that each year as new sponsors join and old sponsors increase their donations,” says Adam Brouillette, board chair. “Creating win-win-win scenarios that show off the talents of the community, help the festival grow, and help showcase the supportive businesses is in our collective interest.”

Independents’ Day is always striving for win-win scenarios and unique sponsorship opportunities. Much sponsorship is done in-kind. Making CD102.5 a stage sponsor helped with radio advertising, while a collaborative partnership with Griffen Hollow Studio provided drink tokens that are not only a necessary component of the festival, but help the studio show off what they can do.

Mike Brown, one of the festival founders, describes what makes their sponsorship unique. “Independents’ Day really does not do traditional advertising or sponsorship, we offer an engaged conversation on what a company wants to stand for and support,” he says.

While Independents’ Day has traditionally found a home downtown on Gay Street, the festival is headed west this year to take over Franklinton.

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“We really outgrew our need to be on Gay Street,” Starr says. “Over the last two years we really started to burst at the seams.”

Organizers wanted to give another neighborhood a boost. Jim Sweeney and the team from Franklinton were willing to do what it took to accommodate the move. While the neighborhood is starting to see its share of events – Urban Scrawl and Go West – this was something on a different level.

The neighborhood is welcoming the festival with open arms.

“We also have a lot of the neighbors in Franklinton that have stepped up,” Starr says. “They want to support cool things.”

The move to the growing neighborhood mixed up the list of sponsors, and it’s also creating some new opportunities for attractions.

This year’s Independents’ Day will feature a container park. Art galleries, restaurants, a record store, a comic book store and a mini version of the South Campus Gateway will be set up inside shipping containers.

“We’re building an entire city on an empty parking lot right in the middle of the festival,” Starr says.

The festival is also taking a different approach to afterparties this year, pairing up with two very established local dance parties, Damn, Girl and O-Gee. Starr hopes it will help bring those crowds into the festival atmosphere.

Independents’ Day is partnering closely with surrounding businesses. As Starr describes it, how do they make sure that Rehab Tavern, Strongwater and Land Grant Brewing have their best days ever? There is comedy happening and Rehab, programming at Strongwater – as well as the dance parties – and an electronic dance music section at Land Grant. There will also be plenty of activity over at the Idea Foundry.

From its humble beginnings to a three-day affair that’s taking over a neighborhood, “This was a very lean startup of blood, sweat and tears that grew into something that’s sustainable,” Starr says, and budget is now a welcome word for the organizers. “When we first got everything up and going it was just a dream and an idea.”

Columbus has embraced that idea.

“Since the inception of the event, the time and efforts of the creative individuals has always been supplemented by the generosity and understanding of willing partners,” Brouillette says. “These partners understand the value this kind of community event has to their quality of doing business, just as it affects the city’s quality of life.”

For more information, visit thisisindependent.com.