On Saturday’s crisp and cool afternoon, food, music and crafts weren’t enough to bring people together to think about Columbia’s future.
The city sponsored three “visioning” festivals at schools to educate people about Columbia’s visioning project and give them a chance to sign up for citizen topic groups.
But an hour after the 11 a.m. kickoff at Douglass High School, only three people had signed the attendance sheet. At one point, assistant city manager Paula Hertwig Hopkins stood on the street corner handing out fliers to those passing by. Attendance increased around noon with the help of recruitment.
“You do publicity, but you never can quite see how many people will turn out on a Saturday,” Hertwig Hopkins said. “It’s one of those things that’s hit and miss. You can’t get somebody to do it who doesn’t want to do it. I feel like if you get a few who sign up who’ve never done something like this before, then, to me, that’s a success.”
Eric Cartwright, a singer-songwriter who was paid $125 to perform at the Douglass festival, said that he didn’t know anything about the city’s visioning project before he received an e-mail last week inviting him to the event.
“This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Cartwright said. “Is this where they’re trying to get ideas about the city?”
The location at Smithton Middle School planned for 100 people to attend, but Tim Thomason, a volunteer from Columbia’s Police Department, said that it would probably be more like 30 to 50. By noon, 15 people had shown up, many of which were volunteers.
Columbia resident Ellen Thomas said she came to Smithton’s festival because she has followed the vision project from its start and feels she has a vested interest in Columbia’s future.
“I grew up here, and in 40 years there’s been a lot of changes, some for the better and some not,” Thomas said. “This is the opportunity to see what changes could be made.”
A fall festival was also held at Gentry Middle School. Upon the event kickoff at 3 p.m. there were approximately 17 people including volunteers in attendance.
Two more festivals will be held Saturday, one at Jefferson Junior High School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the other at Lange Middle School from 3 to 6 p.m.
Hertwig Hopkins said the Sponsors Council will have a debriefing after the festivals to determine what else needs to be done to involve the community before the citizen topic groups begin meeting in January.
“There’s a lot of time for outreach and follow-up to see what else we can do,” she said. “We’re going to get there.”