The 133rd Michigan Association of Fairs and Expositions (MAFE) Convention was held January 11th-13th at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. About 1,200 people were in attendance representing approximately 75 fairs and festivals and 100 associate members of the organization. There were 76 booths at the trade show. This year's theme was "People, Passion, Pride."
Executive Director, Lisa Reiff, expressed that each year the convention revolves around educational topics and programming. While the convention serves an educational purpose, this year part of the focus seemed to be on youth leadership. "Our convention is a great opportunity to recognize those in our fair an festival community," says Reiff. "We focused on professional training, idea sharing, and disseminating
pertinent industry related information."
Throughout the busy weekend, about 45 different educational programs are held to benefit attendees. The formatting of each of these topics varies but most are either set in a workshop format: more of a classroom style with a lecturer and question and answer session or a roundtable organization: moderators and open discussion throughout the time.
Asking which topics are most popular with attendees proved a difficult question for Reiff to answer because the Executive Board of the MAFE puts forth considerable effort to ensure diverse topics for not just fair members but also festival members and associate members. "We try to give a wide range of educational opportunities. The goal is to cater to as many folks as we can. The focus is not just on fair professionals but festivals and associate members as well," says Reiff.
While all educational sessions were well attended, Reiff pointed out some key sessions from this year's program she though everyone found beneficial. Workshops and roundtables about grant writing, media training, and homeland security proved to be interesting topics. "We really had quite a variety of things to offer," says Reiff. Convention organizers work closely with the Department of Agriculture to ensure up-to-date seminars about livestock and poultry regulations.
The MAFE kicked off a new program called "yMAFE" last year. The program is for young professionals involved in the fair industry that are under the age of 45. "We are really excited to start a program for young fair and festival professionals in Michigan. This program will continue to improve our convention, association, and industry for years to come," says Reiff.
Last year, MAFE was able to provide a scholarship to send three members of the new program to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) Convention in Las Vegas. At the 2018 MAFE convention, yMAFE members had the opportunity to network with other professionals in the industry. Additionally, current members held a roundtable discussion to brainstorm ideas on best practices to ensure the organization thrives. "We extend an invitation for anyone in the industry (under 45) to join…fairs, festivals, and associate members are welcome," says Reiff.
yMAFE focuses on young professionals in the industry, but the MAFE is looking to develop leadership skills and love of the industry at an even earlier age. Reiff explained that the MAFE has rolled out a youth program to help foster industry education at an early age. "A lot of fairs have leaders in these age groups whether they be members of a junior fair board or a junior advisor for a fair," says Reiff.
It is the MAFE's hope that the youth programming at the convention will help bring kids to understand the industry and to give them some extra leadership skills. Reiff feels that this is an excellent opportunity for youth fair participants to look outside their area of the fair and learn more about exactly what it takes to run the whole thing. "When I was young I showed in 7 county fairs and 3 state fairs. Still, I didn't understand everything that goes into putting on a fair or a festival," says Reiff. Focusing on youth involvement will help foster long term participation in the fair and festival industry thus benefitting the industry as a whole.
Although the days were packed with educational programming, attendees of the 2018 MAFE convention found plenty of time for fun and socializing. The reverse raffle fundraising event for the MAFE scholarship fund was held Friday night. In a reverse raffle, every ticket is called and some may win a small prize but the very lat ticket to be called wins $10,000. "It's a great fundraiser for us and it's a lot of fun, definitely more participatory than a normal raffle," says Reiff.
The MAFE banquet took place Saturday night. Entertainment was provided by a group called "Open Canvas," they paint a picture on stage while they perform. Open Canvas created a beautiful fair scene on stage that night. "The fair scene benefitted the Hall Of Fame Award we gave out this year," says Reiff.
This is the fourth year that the MAFE has handed out a Hall of Fame Award. Consistent with its message and programming, the MAFE has a varied group of recipients from year to year. "Our Hall of Fame Award is a great cross-section of outstanding individuals who have helped make the fair industry thrive," says Reiff. Some of the other awards handed out at the convention include: Legislator of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, and the Heritage Award.
A new MAFE Executive Board has just been installed: LC Scramlin CFE (Zone 2), Doug Krawczak (Zone 4), John Currie (Zone 3), Mike Zimmerman (Zone 6), Brian Kumin (Zone 1 and President), Bill Johnson (Director at Large) Ric Crawford (Director at Large and Secretary), Larry Bush (Festival Rep), Lenore Center (Zone 5 and VP) Lisa Reiff (Executive Director), Jamie Skerbeck (Associate Rep and Treasurer), Steve Helen (Director at Large and Past President).
Board members serve a 1 year term. The 11-member board is made up of 9 fair representatives, 1 festival representative, and 1 associate member representative. The Executive Board of the MAFE meets about 6-8 times a year. They attend zone meetings, legislative meetings, attend to member needs, and organize Spring workshops.
Planning for the 2019 convention has already begun. Reiff says that the convention will be in Grand Rapids through 2021. Ideas for next year's educational sessions at the convention are provided by attendees through a survey at the end of the convention. Reiff says she also gets her best ideas from zone meetings and at the Michigan fairs she attends throughout the year. "We strive to get as much member feedback as possible," says Reiff.