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Performing your way through a pandemic

Meredith McCrindle Tamfest

If there is such a thing as a seven year itch in business, we were too busy to notice.

Our seventh year was spent morphing an in-person arts festival to an online one. We were one of the first festivals to embrace the possibilities. And, I’m delighted to say that, although going online seemed to fly in the face of our aim of attracting people to Ayr town centre, it has actually provided a huge boost to that objective. Maintaining a presence in the virtual space brought international exposure on a whole new level.

Meredith McCrindle, Chair of the Tamfest festival, explains how to keep performing through a pandemic.

The art of being bold

I’m a professional harpist and clarsach player – so not the typical business profile – but having a Bachelors in Music Business and a Masters in Management in the Creative Industries from the University of St Andrews helps. I am also a Texan by birth, although Scottish by lineage.

However, I don’t believe any of those characteristics were particularly salient in setting up Tamfest. It was simply obvious that Ayr and Ayrshire needed a boost to attract attention, interest and visitor spend.

I was puzzled by the extent that being the birthplace of Robert Burns (to me, an international icon) seemed sometimes taken for granted in Ayrshire and I sensed an opportunity to bring the Bard and his works to a new generation. At first, I think I was simply “the mad American on a mission” but I knew the value of speaking to people – anyone who would listen in fact.

Admittedly, sometimes it was disheartening, as, if you’ll forgive the observations of an American incomer, I do sometimes find the Scottish mindset can be discouraging and come across as “beaten down” (and I say this as one who genuinely loves my adopted country and all in it).

Equally, there were those who embraced the idea of an arts festival based around Halloween and Burns’ wonderful poem, Tam O’ Shanter, with energy and enthusiasm. Chief among those were the local Council, who remain sponsors of Tamfest.

Then there was the very wonderful Jeremy Wyatt of the Gaeity Theatre in Ayr, who joined our board and has offered unstinting support for many years.

In the beginning though, most things just start with a bold idea.

The value of flexibility

Halloween is a much bigger event in the USA than in Scotland, and the Tam O’ Shanter hook was a way of drawing people into the town centre in a traditionally dull month between summer and Christmas. The interest from partners and performers, however, meant that we were able to extend events much longer across the year and now run all year long.

The pandemic too – awful as it was, and is – forced us into some tough decisions.

By moving online, we have still been able to provide a platform for performers, and for Burns, while reaching audiences further afield. I don’t think I’m being overly confident in my belief that this will result in greater interest in Burns and in Ayrshire; potentially increasing overseas visitors when conditions allow.

I cannot claim this boost was part of our strategy but, by reacting positively to a negative situation, it has turned to Ayrshire’s advantage.

Taking a fresh perspective

I am a huge believer in the value of diversity and of listening to those who bring different views, talents and experiences to your own. This is definitely the energy on which Tamfest has prospered.

I had no idea when I started the process just how all-consuming Tamfest would become and how much benefit it could bring to those swept into its orbit. Seven years have flown and, although Tamfest remains largely in a virtual format for this year, we have been able to host some fifty,  individual events through 2021 and look forward to a return to live events in 2022.

My message to anyone considering whether or not to pursue a ‘daft’ idea for a business is simple: talk to anyone who will listen and see what they can bring to the table.

Your business idea will almost certainly morph into something else as a result, but may well be better.

If you’ve done your homework, know there’s a potential market and have an idea how you can tap into it then don’t listen to those who say “it can’t work”, unless they give you a very good reason for their negativity.

Sometimes, you just have to follow your instincts.

Find Meredith McCrindle’s Tamfest at: www.tamfest.co.uk.

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