For the five Smith-Cotton High School students who organized the first Carpe Diem Festival, one of the most nerve-racking elements was literally seizing a day on the calendar.
“We were originally worried about rain, then snow and coldness, then earlier this week we were worried about rain again,” said junior Michaela Pomajzl, one of the students in the Mayor’s Junior Civic Leaders Group who planned Saturday’s event in downtown Sedalia.
Aside from a bit of a breeze, the weather cooperated. But the students learned that cooperation from other human beings is the most unpredictable aspect of overseeing a festival.
“We did have a couple bands cancel this week,” Pomajzl said. “We had one cancel last night, which kinda stunk. We’ll have two bands.”
The bands are scheduled to start at 5 p.m., when the center of the action moves from the front of the courthouse to Maple Leaf Park. A chili cook-off is also slated for the evening.
Saturday morning and afternoon featured four food vendors, five non-food vendors, kids making chalk drawings on the sidewalk, some patrons checking out the Smith-Cotton High School art exhibit in the Liberty Center, and an atmosphere of fun as a DJ pumped out tunes from the street corner.
When asked if organizing the festival — designed to showcase young, local talent outside of a school setting — went better or worse than they expected, the teens replied “worse” without hesitation. Their moods were upbeat, though, and all spoke about hosting a second festival a year from now.
“There were a lot of things you wouldn’t think would go into it,” junior Abby Monsees said. “You’d ask a person if they could do this and one day they’d say yes and the next day no; then you’d have to find a replacement. Some people said they could do it if we organized it. So you kind of had a lot of little projects going into this one big project.”
“It was really hard for all of us to find vendors because we’re not in contact with them a lot,” senior Hannah Ott said. “But we know a lady who has a list of vendors and says we can make this into a two-block thing next year, so that helps.”
“My dad owns the bounce houses, so that’s one I could count on,” Monsees said with a laugh. “Otherwise he was gonna hear from me afterward.”
Sedalia Mayor Elaine Horn, who organized the Mayor’s Junior Civic Leaders Group at the start of the spring semester for area schools, said there was very little money exchanged in the course of organizing the event, and that added to the challenge.
“We got the music donated — the DJ is a high school student,” Horn said. “Balloons & Tunes was great to donate the bounce houses. Stone Laser Imaging donated the (chili cook-off) trophies. The funds we got from vendor fees we used toward the advertising and the banner.
“We’re talking less than $300 left over, which is good seed money for next year to get them started and to see ‘Here’s what our expenses were and here’s what we had left over.’ We really want this to be a fun thing at no cost. The whole point is to showcase the youth in our community. It’s not here for anybody to make money, except the vendors.”
The students hope the Carpe Diem Festival will grow into April’s answer to September’s Queen of the Prairies Festival of the Arts, which was relatively small in 2011 and grew to cover a few blocks of downtown last year. The third annual event is scheduled for Sept. 28.
“I don’t think some people realize that planning a big festival or event is almost like starting a small business,” Monsees said. “At first it’s gonna be slow, but you just gotta hang on and a few years down the road it’ll get huge.”
“Your first year is always hard,” Horn said. “We’ll regroup afterward and talk about what worked well and what we can improve upon. They didn’t do anything wrong; it’s just a matter of ‘How can we make it better and how can we get more people to come?’
“We didn’t start with getting the word out as quickly as we should have, and we fully recognize that.”
The five members of the Mayor’s Junior Civic Leaders Group are interested in different career fields: Forensic science (Monsees), radiation therapy (Jovana Cervantes), nursing (Ott), physical therapy (Pomajzl) and optometry (Alexia Goodson).
The common skill necessary for all fields, Pomajzl said, is: “Leadership — big time. You learn that you either have to be in it all the way or not at all. Part-way just doesn’t work out.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Carpe Diem Festival, featuring bands, chili-cook off, vendors, kids’ activities and more
WHEN: Until 10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Maple Leaf Park, at the corner of Main Street and Ohio Avenue, Sedalia