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Street Talk

Cold Water Bribe Entices Survey Takers

By Mickey Howley


With the hottest days of this summer just last weekend, perhaps it was a trick, but the offer of a bottle of ice water in trade for a minute of time sure was working on the hot streets of West Point, Mississippi.
Last Saturday was the 35th Annual Prairie Arts Festival and the crowd did turn out despite the 97-degree temperature to see the 300 plus arts and craft vendors in downtown West Point. I was there working with a team from the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State collecting survey data for a festival impact analysis.  
Part of the process was asking folks to fill out a short half page questionnaire and that’s where the hot temps and the cold-water bribe came in handy. Plus we threw in a hand fan for a perk as well. The team collected—between the Prairie Arts on Saturday and the Howlin’ Wolf concert Friday night—several hundred surveys. Questions like how many are in your group, how often do you come to this event, what town do you live in, how did you hear about the event, what is good about it, and what could be better (some said air-conditioning).
And the big question; how much do you plan on spending? Plus there was some head counting, using hand held counters to see how many people pass a given point in 15 minutes. And several laps around the fest, doing a quick count. At any given time there were about 6,000 people in downtown West Point.
Once the survey data gets analyzed and all figured out, it is then applied to the great question of what impact this festival has on West Point. Events like the Prairie Arts take hundreds of volunteers many thousands of hours to plan, prepare, and pull off.  That’s a huge yearly effort. Why do people help? What if that energy and effort was put in another direction?  
What are the benefits—short and long term—does the festival do? Why do it at all? The collected data helps answer some of those questions. People often say big street festivals benefit a town, but can you prove it? Sometimes you have to ask and listen for the subjective answer. Valeda Carmichael, owner of Culin-Arts in downtown West Point, commented that even though vehicle access to her business was blocked for two days, the festival weekend is one of her busiest times.  
I don’t know if I can prove the objective benefits, but I always feel good when our Main Street is “parked up” and people are walking around town having a good time as happens every ArtCrawl. Make a note now, coming up sooner than you think on Saturday, September 21, is this year’s Down-town Studio ArtCrawl. There are 18 stops on this year’s crawl and the artist count is somewhere over 40. There are new stops and new events on the crawl. The great thing about this particular night on the town is every year it is different.        
The hardworking volunteers of the Water Valley Arts Council have been planning this one, well, since the last one.  And it is a great way to show off Water Valley’s downtown creative concentration. See you on the street.

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