FOUR STUDENTS WERE INSPIRED THIS SUMMER TO DESIGN AND LAUNCH CITY DIFFERENT FESTIVAL, A TWO-DAY EVENT PACKED WITH MUSIC, FILM, AND ART THAT INVITED THE GREATER COMMUNITY ONTO CAMPUS.
December 2016—As rich as student life is on campus, Chris Grigsby felt disconnected from the city as well as universities across the state—until he worked at Quadstock, a robust, blissfully raucous student-led event that opened up the university grounds to the greater Santa Fe area for two days of music and events.
As it wrapped up, it occurred to him—why not create a festival that welcomes students in the fall and reinvigorates their connections to the wider community? This summer, the Film major partnered with Tessa Martinez, a Contemporary Music major, Austin Ross, a graduate of the Film School and a member of Tone Deaf Collective, and Nicholas Quintero, a Contemporary Music major, to create a brand new annual event: City Different Festival.
Designed to tap into the underground arts community and the widespread DIY ethos on campus, they packed the two-day festival to the brim with live music, art, performance, and film.
Quintero, who was in charge of locating, reviewing, and booking the bands, brought in acts from as far away as Colorado and Texas and as close as the next building on campus. He varied the sound from more approachable indie and hip hop to an exploration of the boundaries of musical genres, including post-surf magic and transgressive synth rock. “Our goal was to bring in the best bands from the underground arts community to expose it for all the positive things it is,” he explains.
Although Grigsby knew the immediate draw would be the live music, he also knew they needed much more not only to better reflect all artistic disciplines, but also to appeal to a variety of students across the state. The New Mexico Student Filmmaker Showcase at The Screen was a big addition: a showcase of student films, which helped bring in participants and audience members from Santa Fe Community College, San Juan College, and Eastern New Mexico University.
Grigsby also worked very hard to bring in community vendors, including Matron Records, a bouncy boxing ring and jousting matches, an array of food options (from burgers to tacos), face painting, and voter registration. “My job was to coordinate our vendors with the music so we could turn City Different into a festival, not just a music showcase,” he says.
He rounded it out with opportunities for students to showcase their work, either as vendors or by presenting after-dark light shows and performances. “We had to work really hard to get students and the community interested by pitching the festival in a way that they couldn’t deny coming,” Martinez says. Inviting student participation and varying the mediums represented helped considerably.
Ross, through his work at Tone Deaf Collective, supported the team by forming the marketing strategy, including leading a social media campaign, and executing community outreach. “Our goal was to make something really cool happen for our community first and second for ourselves,” he says. The university also sponsored a radio ad the group recorded at a local station to promote the event.
“We all stepped into this as young professionals,” Quintero explains. “This festival was driven by our own skills and those we acquired through our experiences in our courses. We booked bands, assembled PAs, and reached out to businesses, which means we’ve all continued to build contacts and learned how to book vendors. We undertook this professional endeavor to strengthen our community.”
The five-month effort was much more than booking acts and enlisting student volunteers. It included drafting a 20-page business plan, presenting the concept to acquire funding from the university, creating the website, marketing the event, and raising money to ensure the majority of the festival would be free for all attendees (the New Mexico Student Filmmaker Showcase had a small entrance fee to support the New Mexico Film Foundation).
In the end, every moment the team poured into the event was well worth it. “Being able to share the stage with so many great artists we personally curated was phenomenal,” Quintero shares. For Martinez, who led a team of volunteers to coordinate the sound throughout the festival, the best moment was the feedback she received: “Having professional musicians and our professors tell us that it was one of the best live sound productions they’d heard was so rewarding.”
Grigsby agrees. “It was so nice to have an event that was truly a celebration of our community.” They’ve already received a lot of encouragement to continue the event and plan to make it an annual festival. “We want to create an event Santa Fe will be known for in the future,” Martinez says.
No matter how many happy attendees wandered home satiated, Quintero says the project left him with an even more meaningful message. “The festival is a statement to our community: There’s no idea that’s too big. You can accomplish anything; you just have to have conviction.” —Claire Blome