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Pagan Event Planning: Recipes for Disaster Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2, we looked at Team Intrepid as it began an event planning process for a Pagan event without creating any structure for decision-making or establishing any goals, and diving right into minutia of the event. And making the wrong decision first can have a lot of impact on later planning.

Event Venue Choices

Let's say Team Intrepid assumes we'll be doing the event at Green Tree Park. They aren’t making this decision for any strategic reason, it's just that the team leader lives near the park and is familiar with the park. 

Except...the park has really poor parking. And it’s not really central to the area, and it’s impossible to get to on public transportation. It has a single sheltered area, but there aren’t really good separate covered areas to do activities like workshops. So if it rains, you're kind of screwed. Maybe the venue is cheap, but you'd have to rent port-o-potties if you're expecting a crowd bigger than 100. 

The choice of venue has perhaps the biggest impact on your entire event. The location of the event will determine who is able to attend, and most of your event cost will be tied up in the venue. The venue and location will impact food choices; some venues do not allow any food on site that isn’t provided by them. Some venues allow other food but aren’t located near food vendors. Some allow potluck, some don't. Some venues might have plenty of workshop spaces but not a good area for vendors, or vice versa. There are dozens and dozens of venue specifics like this to consider.

A lot of event planning is thinking about all the various logistics and the impact of each choice. It's looking into the future and envisioning the experience that participants will have, and trying to make that as positive an experience as possible. 

How To Make Difficult Choices

Event planners have to balance the knife's edge of "You can't please everyone" with "Customer is always right." I don't believe the customer is always right, but nor do I subscribe to the idea that because you can't please everyone, you shouldn't try to plan to make an event a pleasant experience for the bulk of your participants. 

In fact, let’s go back to the mission and goals of the event. I’d offer that one of your goals should always be trying to make the event a pleasant experience for your participants. If you have that as one of your goals—if part of your group’s mission in offering this event is to serve your local community—then that sometimes provides a metric to help you make later tactical decisions. Because in event planning, there are a dizzying array of decisions to make, and particularly when your team is divided about an issue, or when money is tight, you’re going to have to make difficult choices.

Grassroots event planners usually run into the financial wall and have to make decisions based on what they can afford. In the case of a venue, sometimes that means choosing the venue that has some problems with it.

I've used venues that had stains on the carpet and that smelled musty, or venues with an elevator that hardly worked, venues with crappy parking, venues that were a little too far from public transportation, venues with a massive flight of stairs that we had to carry event supplies up, you name it. 

Though one of my goals is always making the event as easy for participants to get to as possible, without thousands of dollars to spend on more convenient spaces, that isn't always doable.

Venue Hunt

I could write a far longer post just on how much I hate researching, visiting, and selecting event venues. But that post would mostly be swear words and whining, so I’ll spare you and give you the abridged version. Given that I’m always planning events on a shoestring budget, finding the right venue for an event is a maddening prospect. In Chicago alone, I’ve researched hundreds of venues online, and gone out to site visits to dozens of them. 

Over the years, we’re talking hundreds of hours of work over the years. 

One challenge that can add to your time doing venue research is that many venues will not offer you a price quote until you visit them. A rule of thumb is that if they won’t give you a price scale on their web site, or over the phone, it’s probably too expensive. Some venues, however, are experienced with working with underfunded not-for-profits and they’re willing to be negotiable, so they won’t quote you a direct price either. 

It should go without saying (but I’ll say it) you absolutely must visit the venue in person before you book it. Never book a venue just based on photos off their web site and a phone call. 

I’ll be honest, venue visits break my heart. It makes me sad to go to a cool venue that would work perfectly for my event, only to find out it would be $5k to rent. Or $15K. Or that the rental fee is $3k, but I’d need to hire security at X amount per hour per every 50 attendees, which would almost double the cost. 

Venue visits can be difficult since you typically have to do them during working hours, which means you may have to take time off of work. You also have to be really diligent about asking specific questions. I just mentioned hiring security; many venues don’t put that requirement on their web site and don’t mention it during the walk through. In one case, I didn’t see it until I’d been handed the contract and I was asked to estimate the attendees so they knew how much security to hire, and when I saw the hourly rate, I did some fast math and realized how expensive the venue would be.

Another venue rented out individual rooms in a park district, but then pointed out that if we wanted any tables in the hallways, we also had to rent the hallways. They offered a simple rate sheet; not-for-profits with 501c3 status paid half the normal rate. Except, they didn’t mention that if you had vendors selling things, the rate was double the usual rate and it didn’t matter if you were a not-for-profit or not. They never mentioned it during the venue visit. It wasn’t until I was talking to them in a followup call that it came up at all.

For that particular event, the primary reason I was looking for a new venue is that we were looking to host a Witches’ Ball as part of a Pagan conference. The venue I usually use has several small workshop rooms and a large room for rituals, but not a good separate space for vendors, and they don’t allow alcohol onsite. Now, I’m not really into events with alcohol because that’s a whole separate set of logistics to deal with, plus I don’t really enjoy being around drunk people. However, if you’re planning an event like a Witches’ Ball and you want it to make money, a dry event isn’t going to cut it. 

I’ll offer a few general questions to ask when choosing a venue. And of course, these things depend on whether you’re doing a largely outdoor or indoor event, whether you’re rural or urban, among other factors, so some things may not apply.

For festival events:

•For festivals, what accommodations are available? Is it camping only, or are there cabins? 

•Is there electricity in the cabins? Are there electrical hookups? 

•Are RVs allowed? 

•Are there showers? 

•Is there a bathroom or will you need to rent port-o-potties?

•What restrictions are there for food? Can you bring in your own? Do you have the capacity to prepare food on site?


For more urban events:

•How much parking is available? Is it free, or is it pay parking? Is the parking expensive?

•If it’s pay parking, can people pay for more than 2 hours at a time or will they have to run out to their car every 2 hours or risk a ticket?

•Is it accessible via public transportation? How safe is the neighborhood and the walk to the bus or train?

•Is the venue difficult to find? Will people get frustrated? Can that be assisted by offering especially good directions and a map?

•Is there food near the venue? Or will people need to bring their own food, or bring potluck? Or will you need to cater the event? How much cost will catering add?

•Is there a kitchen or other facilities to wash dishes?

•What kind of space is available for workshops?

•How much space is available for your main ritual?

•What kind of space is available for your vendors?

•Will other groups also be renting the space?

•Are there things in the venue that you cannot move, like furniture?

•What kind of lighting is available? Can you turn off overhead fluorescent lights during ritual?

•Can you use candles enclosed in glass or only LED candles?

Obviously we could continue with this list, but it’s a good starting point.

Mission, Strategy, and Goals

All this is why it helps to talk a bit about your event plans, your mission and vision, and your key goals, before choosing a venue. Planning a weekend retreat for twenty people is different from planning a four-day camping festival for 50-100 people, or a day-long conference for 100 people, or an evening ritual indoors, or at a park. And all of those are different from planning something like a one-day Pagan Pride event in a publicly accessible place (usually a park) or a 4-day hotel conference.

And before you even look at specific event structures, look at what you want to accomplish.

  • Are you trying to educate Pagan leaders by offering a Pagan leadership conference?
  • Are you looking to offer a fun Pagan social event for local families?
  • Are you looking to offer a series of intensive workshops?
  • Are you looking to offer an event to serve the broader Pagan community in your area, or to serve just members of your own tradition or coven?
  • Do you want the event to be accessible only to those who have cars, or to those on public transportation?

You are also going to want to talk about how the event will pay for itself. Many events use vendor fees to pay for site rental, other events charge an admission fee, and some do both. Other Pagan event organizers put up the cash themselves. How you charge for the event is going to be linked to the type of venue you use and what’s allowed.

You can start to see how every decision you make early on has an impact. Venue is one of the areas that is going to have the most impact on your event, so it’s worth thinking things through quite a bit.

It’s also worth remembering that you may only be able to afford so much. Some groups have trouble raising $50-$200 for a park rental. Other groups are able to raise $1,000, $5,000, and more to make an event happen. Sometimes you may have to choose the less perfect venue just to make the event happen, but if you plan ahead, your event may be able to be profitable enough that you have a bigger budget for the next time.

Part 4 coming soon!

Pagan Event Planning: Recipes for Disaster Part 1
Pagan Event Planning: Recipes for Disaster Part 2

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An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  


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