By Stephen Hamway
During a nine-day period in the middle of October, four festivals and conferences will likely attract more than 6,000 people to downtown Bend for a mix of creative endeavors, from making films to pitching for venture capital.
Organizers have discussed marketing the events together, possibly branding them as a unified slate of activities.
While plans are still being solidified, the idea is for the conferences to collaborate on parties, live music and more. It’s still very early in the process, but BendFilm Director Todd Looby said there is potential for the conferences to act as a continuous cluster of connected programming, similar to the annual South By Southwest Conferences & Festivals in Austin, Texas, albeit on a much smaller scale.
“It’s kind of undefined how it all fits together, but if there’s an overriding theme between them, it’s the celebration of creativity,” Looby said.
“I think it’s pretty exciting to have the potential for Bend to be the center of the Northwest in October,” Looby said.
For now, the collaboration will consist primarily of overlapping invitations to parties for various conferences. For example, Cam Davis, co-chair of Swivel, said the design conference will be hosting a VIP party the night before, and that BendFilm members would be welcome to attend. He added that staging musical events to link the conferences together has been suggested, as well as an “omni-ticket,” that would provide entry to each of the conferences.
“These people are in town; why not stick around and see if they’d like to try another event?” Davis said.
Taken holistically, the events represent an opportunity to bring people to Bend during a traditional lull in the tourism calendar. While leisure and hospitality has long been one of the key drivers to Central Oregon’s economy, the revenue it generates is not distributed evenly throughout the year. In October 2014, hotels in Bend saw an occupancy rate of 65.3 percent, according to data from Visit Bend, the city’s tourism-promotion agency. By comparison, in July 2014, during the heart of the summer tourism season, more than 88 percent of hotel rooms were filled. As a result, industry experts have lamented the lack of attendance during the so-called “shoulder seasons” of fall and spring.
“During the shoulder seasons when leisure travel decreases, group and event tourism escalates to carry local businesses through the off season,” Doug La Placa, CEO of Visit Bend, wrote in an email.
As a way to alleviate the lack of events during spring and fall, the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund was created in 2014 through a voter-approved increase in lodging taxes. One of the guidelines for the fund is that it should “attract incremental tourists to Bend during the shoulder seasons and winter months.”
“It’s really clearly all about bringing more events to the shoulder seasons,” said Shannon Planchon, program manager for the fund.
Planchon added that two of the nine groups that received funding will be part of the October slate of conferences. BendFilm received $26,000 to help with promotion for the festival, and Scalehouse, a local organization dedicated to bringing an arts center to Bend, received $11,000 to launch the inaugural Bend Design Conference.
Each of the conferences focuses on a particular niche.
Rene Mitchell, partner at tbd Advertising and one of the founding members of the design conference, said the two-day event will cover topics ranging from architecture to graphic design to visual poetry.
“It’s a way to bring people together to look at that and discuss how design impacts how we behave,” Mitchell said.
Davis said Swivel, formerly known as Bend WebCam, would build upon Bend’s reputation as a search engine optimization hotbed to provide speakers on a variety of digital marketing topics. And the Bend Venture Conference, which describes itself as the largest angel conference in Oregon, provided more than $1 million in investments to presenting startups from across the region last year, according to The Bulletin’s archives.
Despite the diverse topics, leaders said there’s room for crossover. While it is too late in the process for conferences to adjust their programming for October, Looby said there are commonalities for creative-minded people who want to spend some time in Bend.
“There’s a lot of intersection; it’s specific, but it does happen,” he said.
Since the conferences are trying to bring in creative-minded people from throughout the region, the slate of events also provides an opportunity to promote Bend’s expanding cultural scene to visitors from places like Portland and Seattle. Looby said that as Bend continues to grow, developing cultural institutions becomes more important.
“For businesses that want to attract young people, you need to have more cultural things going on in town,” Looby said.
Since many of Bend’s new arrivals are coming from larger cities, the existence of film festivals and design conferences helps keep people in town when the outdoor opportunities lose their appeal.
“It builds awareness of how strong the creative culture is in Bend,” Davis said. “It’s not all tourism and recreation.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the dates for the Bend Venture Conference listed in a box accompanying the story were incorrect.
The Bulletin regrets the error.