by Tracy Tullis

Bake sales and pizza Fridays, movie nights and auctions: many PTAs have tried one or more of these popular fundraising activities.

This year, the PTA at Art and Design High School in Manhattan was interested in trying something new--an event that would raise a significant amount of money, and--just as important--one that would be both educational and fun for the students.

One new parent at the school, Saori Adams, suggested an arts festival modeled on the highly popular “comic con” conventions that attract thousands of enthusiastic visitors every year. The students at Art and Design study a range of fine and commercial arts, including comics, animation, graphic design, photography, and fashion design, so the PTA knew their artists-in-training would be excited about the event. They were certain they could attract visitors from outside the school community as well.

Adams works in comics publishing and has planned comics conventions; PTA president Miguel Chavez, through his work in computer technology, is well connected to the worlds of graphic design, video games, and publishing--so between the two of them they had an extensive list of contacts they could mine for possible participants. They also had an idea of how to organize a large, complex event. “Imagine planning a wedding,” Chavez said. “There are a lot of moving parts.”

The result, which they called Fanfaire, ran for two days in February 2018.

The big day

Adams and Chavez, along with their planning committee, recruited more than 125 exhibitors, vendors (including students) and presenters from a variety of fields: animators and comic artists; graphic, toy and costume designers; video game creators and sculptors; and more. Quite a few were Art and Designalumni.

Guest artists set up at tables spread through the gym and cafeteria; they displayed their work and chatted with students about how to break in to their fields. Several of the professional artists--a costume designer, graphic designer, cartoonist, animator, and photographer--held  portfolio review sessions, in which they offered students advice on how to improve their work.

Students also set up shop at tables in the cafeteria, where they displayed and sold their own artwork--including jewelry, photography, and comics.

In the school’s black box theater and auditorium, visitors listened to panel discussions on topics like how to break into video game development, what it’s like for women in commercial art, and how technology has changed comic book business.

So how did it go? “It exceeded our expectations,” Adams says. The school raised about $7000 after expenses, “and the students are begging us to do it again.” Many of the exhibitors have already expressed interest in participating again next year. 

Advice from the veteran organizers

Adams and Chavez suggest that any school considering a major festival like Fanfaire would need some dedicated team members. The Art and Design planning committee put in a lot of hours over four months to make it a success. “It’s not a bake sale,” Adams warns. “It’s a huge undertaking.” 

But if a school has enough dedicated and energetic volunteers, Chavez says, it’s worth the effort--and not just for the money raised or even the educational benefit. On top of all that, he pointed out, “the presence of the school is enhanced” and “school spirit is raised.” 

This type of event is not just for the artistically inclined. The basic idea of a fair--with informational tables, vendors, panel discussions, and professional assessments of students’ work--could be adapted to different themes: a school with a STEM focus, for example, could try a science fair, modeled after the Maker Fairs that have become popular in recent years.

The largest job for any type of festival will be recruiting the participants. Parent organizers can start by tapping their own connections (and asking the whole parent body to pass along connections they might have as well).

Of course, not every school has the advantage of a parent with a background in event planning and a bulging Rolodex.  But even cold calling will get some positive responses.  “Most people are willing to help their industry communities,” Adams said, especially encouraging young people who are interested in their field. “It’s a good cause.”