Leadership Lessons from Organizing Cultural Events …. By Anil Maheshwari
Certain good ideas lead to properly-organized and well-attended ‘successful’ cultural events. This could be applicable to creating good organizations also. I write below from my experience of organizing a few big house-full South-Asian cultural events at MUM over the last 12 months. All the events had the customary song and dance elements. However, they also had new innovations. And they all brought in new challenges, opportunities, surprises and joy. It takes a certain gut-strength to manage it all.
Here is a list of the events we organized and the innovations we incorporated:
- Diwali function in November 2013. We created a beautiful innovative poster to promote the event. We introduced the idea of including participants from all South Asian countries including not only India, but also Nepal, Bangladesh, SriLanka, Pakistan, and others. We introduced the idea of a fashion show where all students could showcase their traditional dresses. We introduced the idea of a boy-girl pair of MCs, where the MCs were from different nationalities. We invited the Mayor of the city to the event, and he got the flavor of how important Diwali is for the entire South asian community. We introduced the idea of giving free organic Burfi Prasad to all the attendees. Last but not the least, we kept the event free to the public. The program was wonderful, and the event was a big success. (Pictures courtesy: Craig Shaw).
- Holi function in March 2014. We introduced the idea of a poetry recitation which is a Holi tradition in India. In this case, I did the recitation of a humorous old poem. We introduced the big idea of doing a large bonfire which is a Holi tradition: Students continued to sing and dance around the fire till midnight. We played with gulal (colored powder) in the night around the fire. We provided free munchies at the bonfire. We introduced the idea of a bhajan band, and this band continued playing at the bonfire also. The event was a super success.
- Baisakhi/Ugadi/Indian-New-Year event in April 2014. Coming soon after the Holi event, it was a low-key event. We invited the visiting head of the Maharishi movement in India who was visiting the US at that time. My daughter performed at the event.
- Krishna Janam Ashtami event in August 2014. This also worked as a welcoming event for all the new and returning students. We continued the ideas of a MC pair, free burfi Prasad, and a large bonfire. We introduced the idea of playing a Maharishi knowledge tape where he was talking of the significance and power of Lord Krishna. We invited the President of the university; he liked the event and said we needed more of such things to enliven the campus. The event was a house-full and standing room only performance.
- Garba dance party in September 2014. This was a dance party for people to dance to traditional Indian garba music. We brought the Dandiya sticks for the dance. At this event we also discovered our new student president of the South asian club.
- Diwali event in October 2014. This event used many of our previous ideas. We had the usual Bollywood song and dance shows, an MC pair, a large bonfire, a fashion show that now included people from Africa also. We added a professional Gandharva performance to the event. I led a group bhajan performance. People stood up and joyfully sang the Aarti together. This event was so packed that latecomers could not find space to get into the auditorium.
The organizing of all these events followed a similar pattern, was but there were different challenges each time. Different people pitched in to help when things looked bleak. Through all this I persevered. Here are some of my lessons:
- Commitment: Someone has to hold the flag high. Even when no one else is interested or seems to be ready to contribute, the key organizer must love the idea, and should have complete faith that the event will happen, and well. There were moments when there was no one else who came to the event planning meeting.
- Self-sufficiency. One should be prepared to invest your own time and resources to make the event happen. One should have the talent to sing and dance, or have your friends and family participate as needed. One can usually find the talent, strength and resources within oneself.
- Openness: Be open to surprises. Be open to what might actually happen at the event. Do not get stuck in a preconceived notion of a cultural event. Be open to new ideas from unexpected sources. Be open to support from unexpected sides. Totally different people, faculty or students, pitched in to support each of the events at crucial moments. Later in the year, we found consistent support from one like-minded person on campus.
- Integrity: Make sure every event has integrity at a high level. The higher level idea should be to have fun, or whatever else. Do not get caught in the weeds of this item or that, this performer or that, this issue or that. Gradually the reputation will grow and people would love to attend the events.