Optimist Clubs often host annual events, such as galas and silent auctions, to raise money for specific causes. For the Yamaska Valley Optimist Club in Lac Brome, Quebec, Canada, however, the pandemic and corresponding limits on in-person gatherings made it impossible to hold one of the group’s largest fundraising events, an International Women’s Day celebration that funds the club’s activities for kids throughout the year.
By Chris Lesieutre, Dundee Hills Group CEO
When the organizers of the Knowlton Literary Festival first contacted the LIVE! team, I admit, I had to do a Google search and pull up a map to find out where this Town of Brome Lake was and how the village of Knowlton fit into it.
And once I figured out the geography of it all, I had to ask myself: what was this seemingly sleepy little, out-of-the-way spot in the Eastern Townships (Cantons-de-l’Est) of Quebec doing hosting a literary festival?
Brome Lake Website
Digging further into it, I discovered these Eastern Townships and Brome Lake in particular have quite a lot going on, and not just in terms of absolutely fantastic rural landscapes with an abundance of opportunities for outdoor fun. They also have a long tradition of art and culture, with a rich vein deep in the literary arts. The area claims the oldest free public library in the province for one thing, and of course, Louise Penny, best-selling mystery author, calls it home and acts as Honorary Patron of the Festival. And then there is the singularly charming bookstore just across from the Mill Pond in the heart of town.
Louise Penny, Honorary Patron of the Knowlton Literary Festival
Lucy Hoblyn, the owner of Brome Lake Books, reached out to us in her role as the VP of the Knowlton Literary Festival. She was looking for ideas on how to run the festival in an online environment.
The Knowlton Literary Festival takes place each October and celebrates English-language literature with a particular focus on Canadian authors. Started in 2010, the festival has pulled in writers from across Canada to engage the local community in and around the Town of Brome Lake. And then in 2020, it didn’t. We all know why.
After canceling the festival in 2020, the organizers and the town were determined to make it happen in 2021, even if it meant not doing it in person. While not exactly sure how to pull off a virtual event, they had some ideas and they knew what they didn’t want. They didn’t want just a series of Zoom sessions.
I asked Lucy why she had decided to contact us.
“Because,” she said, “some of our people attended an international women’s day event that was on LIVE!, and over the first 12 months of the pandemic, that was the only virtual event, of many, that they said actually felt like a real event.”
No one on the LIVE! team had ever attended a literary festival, so we got a crash course in that first meeting. And we listened to the particulars of how the Knowlton Literary Festival didn’t just bring in noted outside authors, but really involved the whole community. They presented point-by-point the things that happened at the literary festival and asked how each event could be replicated online. Musicians, theater performances, book clubs, dance and yoga classes, tourist and local community information. Not just how it could be replicated, but how it could be replicated in the most true-to-life manner possible, so it would work for people who aren’t necessarily attuned to or up on the latest online technology.
The fun part about working with people who don’t come from the high-tech industries where we do most of our work is that they have no idea of the limits of the technology, so they’re perfectly willing to push beyond.
The team from Knowlton Literary Festival went away from our first meeting and then within a week delivered a thoroughly thought-out structure for the entire event. They built it around the premise of recreating the village atmosphere where the in-person literary festival would normally be held. They focused on the graphical presentation, creating an event map overlaid against a recognizable view of what would have been the physical location if the event were held in person. Room icons on the map included familiar elements like the VIP Main Stage, the Gazebo, Bookworm Café, and of course the Bookstore itself (where attendees could order their books, with proceeds going to the festival). The organizers felt that if the look and feel of the platform was attractive and familiar, users would immediately be comfortable and willing to engage within the platform, and not be intimidated by any preformed technical fears.