As with everything in 2020, planning for The Ark’s 44th Annual Folk Festival was a little different – actually, a lot different. Presenting the Folk Fest as a virtual event for the first time ever was not for the faint of heart, and The Ark outdid themselves – delivering 12 hours of programming with 26 artists over three nights to 3,300 households, including viewers from 22 countries across the globe.

To summarize the whole process in a word, what made this event come together and come alive was trust. It was the fighting spirit of The Ark staff, the generosity of festival sponsors, the team at NoonChorus (the event’s live-streaming platform), and all of the artists that brought an in-person live music experience into fans’ living rooms. 

As The Ark’s Folk Festival design sponsor since 2003, Q LTD set the tone with graphic design that helped the event feel homey and intimate despite the hours of screen time. Q Senior Designer Emily Cedar shares how our team navigated the process of designing and strategizing for an online event platform.

Our team’s process always starts with good old-fashioned sketches to get a rough idea of what the look and feel of the festival will be. This usually involves many trips back and forth from my desk to the printer in the office. Draft after draft, trying to find the right colors, the right typography, the right everything, before presenting concepts to The Ark’s Marketing Director, Barb Chaffer Authier. This year, the Q printer sat idle while we relied on screen-sharing and emailing PDFs back and forth to create and select a design that would set the stage for the event. 

Once the design was established, we worked to incorporate it into NoonChorus, the platform that live-streamed the whole event. NoonChorus is brand new (est. 2020), but they’ve really got it goin’ on. The platform allowed us to showcase the design, highlighting festival merchandise and the artist lineup; and fans loved how the virtual format enabled them to chat with each other and interact with performers during the show, as well as made the performances available to rewatch over the week following the festival.

NoonChorus made it easy to set up a variety of ticket bundle packages, which included exclusive merchandise items. We coordinated with print partners Ascott Printing and Ann Arbor T-shirt Co. to offer swag such as mugs, T-shirts, tote bags, posters, Zingerman’s snack baskets, and masks. Foresight, who printed the commemorative poster, actually hand-delivered proofs to Barb and me – carefully masked and socially distant, of course!   

Finally, this year’s Folk Fest ended on a poignant note with Michigan artists paying tribute to the late, great John Prine. Prine headlined the very first Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 1976, at a time when The Ark was in debt and in danger of closing its doors. Prine played for free, asking only that his transportation be covered. I never met him, but Ark folks say that he was as generous and warm in person as he was on stage. It seems that John Prine embodied everything that The Ark stands for – real people, sharing great music, trusting that we’ll all do our part to make a difference.