Creating a festival; the people behind the scenes
The Tucson Festival of Books depends on volunteers to help run the information booth, escort authors, clean up after and more
Volunteers began preparation for the Tucson Festival of Books in early February.
They gathered outside of the University of Arizona bookstore on the mornings of Saturday Feb. 24 and March 3 to train for the event. This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the festival and is expected to have over 2,000 volunteers.
“It’s unbelievably generous of the community to come out in such force to help out for the festival and for literacy,” Melanie Morgan, the Executive Director of the Tucson Festival of Books, said.
Chris Kopach is the Assistant Vice President of Facility Management for the UA. Kopach has been on involved with the festival since its inception in 2009 and said that the festival would not be possible without the help of volunteers.
“We’ve got the best volunteers in the city of Tucson,” Kopach said.
Kopach said that although the transformation process officially started on Saturday, Feb. 24, the set up will not be complete until just prior to the TFOB.
“Officially we start today [Feb.24], we start setting up and it takes us two weeks,” Kopach said. “We will start transforming this entire mall with over 300 tents and 14 stages for our entertainment.”
The volunteers can choose between jobs involving either festival weekend, pre-festival or post-festival positions. These duties range from aiding in author transportations, being a festival guide or working in the information booths.
Although volunteers are assigned different primary tasks, they are all expected to help in emergency situations, if they arise.
For example, Kopach said that every year approximately 10-15 kids get lost at the festival and that it’s essential for volunteers to redirect them to an information booth so that the proper steps can be made to reunite them with their parents.
Mike Byers is a fourth year volunteer for the festival of books. In the past, Byers volunteered to work with author and talent transportation. He also helped with the set up of the tents and signs for the festival.
Byers said that one thing that makes the Tucson Festival of Books a distinguished and impressive event is the variety of vendors, patrons and sponsors.
“I always like to see the vendors because there’s so many interesting [and] different sponsors of the festival and participants,” Byers said.
The event is beneficial for the UA community because it brings individuals to campus who may not normally frequent the campus and it is also advantageous for the city of Tucson because the authors staying in all of the cities hotels and motels bring in revenue for the city, according to Byers.
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“I just think it’s a really good event for the community and it has grown tremendously in the few years that it’s been around,” Byers said. “It’s a big deal for Tucson, I’m happy it’s here.”
According the festival website, the event started in March 2009 and hosted 50,000 regional visitors with the help of 800 volunteers. For the ninth annual festival in 2017, attendance reached 135,000 participants, almost three times as many people as the first festival.
Audrianna Herran is a first-time volunteer for the festival and said that she was motivated to volunteer because she has enjoyed TFOB in previous years and wanted to get more involved. Herran said the festival is positive for the Tucson community because it promotes literacy.
According to the Literacy Connect Website for Tucson and Southern Arizona, only 40 percent of third graders in Pima Country were proficient in reading and writing in 2016. As of 2015, 83.5 percent of preschoolers in Pima County were at risk for not being adequately prepared for kindergarten.
Kopach said that this year’s festival will have a few changes from previous years, such as the option for patrons to purchase alcohol. However, the overall intention and purpose of the festival will stay the same.
“It’s about books, it’s about authors and it’s really about what the University of Arizona is about: educating our young and our future leaders, ” Kopach said.
Although the set up for the festival is a time-consuming process, it’s all for a good cause, according to Kopach.
“We’re running about 16 hours a day but it’s well worth it for the city of Tucson,” Kopach said.
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