Our Rose Festival 2020 vision was amazing. We started dreaming and scheming as soon as we finished last year’s festival, and frankly, after months of preliminary planning, we were excited about how it was coming together. Just a few weeks ago in early February we met dozens of impressive young women ready to represent their schools and communities on the Rose Festival Court. Later that month, we started the annual tradition of announcing those princesses. At the same time our Rose Vision transitioned into the work of processing the countless details of a world-class celebration. It’s definitely a labor of love, and it was really coming together!
Until everything stopped.
While the warning signs were there for weeks, it became real for me when the NBA announced they were suspending play. As people know, I’m a sports guy, and watching basketball and soccer and professional golf and finally even the Olympic Games put on hold was as hard for me as it was the rest of the world. How much of our time is spent following the teams and athletes we love?
For the festival, we knew right after the NBA announcement that our Court program would be impacted almost immediately. When we could no longer convene with our participating Court schools, we introduced our final four princesses via a social networking platform. On March 19 we officially announced we were evolving our 2020 Rose Vision to correspond with our new shared reality, which meant postponing our event dates. The health of our community and our friends around the world is the most important thing, and Rose Festival has always been an organization able to adapt our traditions to respond to unexpected circumstances.
Like so many nonprofits and small businesses, we had to find a way to continue to be productive outside our office environment, we had to count the balance in our bank account and strategize on funding options, and we had to communicate with our many supporters, friends and partners via new and initially unfamiliar platforms. We had to engage with our colleagues within the Portland community, across the NW region and around the world to share the best advice for those of us whose primary mission is to provide essential celebration, all the while knowing the appropriate time for that celebration was somewhere in the future.
The Rose Festival has seen this community through a lot of tough times. In 1948 the Grand Floral Parade marked the final celebration of the people of Vanport whose very city had been washed away just ten days earlier. In 1980 parade-goers wore masks on their faces not to ward off disease, but to protect them from Mount St. Helens ash. Through wars and economic depressions and recession, the festival has always been one of Portland’s primary sources of inspiration and healing, and what’s clear to festival leaders today is that we want to provide that same inspiration and healing again, whenever the time is right.
While we all wait for the health risk to subside and we do our best to abide by the critically important strategy of social distancing, I wanted to share a few highlights of what has been transpiring over these last few weeks within our organization:
First, we are actively seeking a window of dates when a revised Rose Festival can take place. We are having ongoing conversations with the City of Portland to identify those dates, with a goal to create a ten-day community festival sometime later in the year. With that in mind, we are optimistically planning for festival features that will encompass as many experiences as possible, within whatever restrictions exist at that time. Most important, it will be celebration designed to reflect the resilient spirit of our community.
The Rose Festival Court Presented by Unitus Community Credit Union is interacting the way we all are now, through video conferencing and social networking technology. This outstanding group of 15 young women are currently adapting to the new normal, getting to know one another and preparing to be an important part of our evolving 2020 Rose Vision. Soon they’ll start interacting with their Unitus mentors and begin their professional training, while planning on ways they can help bring Rose Festival traditions to the community. Videos of this year’s Court are already being shared at Rose Festival social media platforms, as well as live visits with the princesses as they participate in story reading. Thanks to the generosity of the Randall Group, each member of the Court has earned a $3,500 college scholarship.
The dreaming and scheming part of our process has started all over. The Rose Festival Executive Committee had their April meeting via video conferencing. The Rose Festival staff meets the same way every couple days. Our cell phones need constant re-charging as we text, email and even talk to one another for hours every day. The possible features for a future festival seem unlimited, and for now we are finding virtual ways to engage the people who are staying at home, like me, in quarantine with my family and pets.
When I began my most recent walk with Stella, she was pulling at the leash like puppies do. But when I started thinking about everything we’re currently doing and planning at the Rose Festival, it was easy to keep pace with her. And when I realized how grateful I am to be able to make those plans and share them with supporters like the ones reading this now, I found even more spring in my step. Thanks to generous donors, sponsors and partners like the City of Portland, I’m confident the Rose Festival can continue to play the important role it has for more than a century. It won’t be easy to get through the upcoming weeks, but we can do it together.
As I said early in this message, the overall health of our community is the most important thing right now. Once we get past a certain point, it will be the Rose Festival’s turn to deliver on the lofty goals of being part of Portland’s healing process as well as playing a role in its economic recovery. We are up to that task! When restrictions are lifted, our priority will be to bring joy and celebration to the Rose City as we have for more than a century. And I can’t wait to see you all in person when we do!
CEO, Portland Rose Festival Foundation