Just Ask Me!

Marianne Carlson

Trying to create or organize a large event can be very difficult if you don't know what you're doing. Just ask me!

Very lucky to have had many different types of jobs during my pre-Mexico lifetime, I got my feet wet in “the organizing events” portion of my resume while managing one of the largest Arabian horse ranches in California.

The ranch had never had an open house until I put together an incredible event that attracted hundreds of buyers, and we sold (to the owner’s amazement) over 20 horses that weekend ranging in price from $5,000 to $265,000 USD. Until I left the ranch, we had a yearly open house. Then I moved to Mexico.

Twenty-two years ago when I decided to try my hand at organizing a Mexican folk art show, my past experience came to the rescue over and over. Yes, I was in a different country, but I told myself I was up to the task. If I knew then what I know now, there might never have been a first Feria Maestros del Arte!

First, I had to find a venue. This can often be the most difficult part of the organizing process because you have to have sufficient parking for the hoards of people you “know” will want to attend the event.

Next, publicity needed be generated so the hoards knew where and when to attend this unique new Lakeside affair. I must say a great deal of publicizing that first Feria involved groveling.

I invited 6 artists who all said they would come — Mexicans are known for not wanting to offend and most always say “yes” — I started worrying none of them would show up, but they all did.

A dear Mexican friend and I were chatting about the show and she asked me, “Where are the artists going to sleep?” “Hotels,” I said. “I sent them a list of hotels with the other information I mailed to them about the show.” A strange look came over her face before telling me that these artists could not afford hotels and would want to sleep under their tables. “I can’t have that,” I said. “I don’t want my guests to sleep on the floor.” She suggested I put the word out to friends and see if any of them might be interested in hosting an artist. “Great idea,” said I as I pulled out my phone book. There are some pretty wonderful people here at Lakeside – all the artists had hosts.

Pfffew! I thought my last big problem was solved. But then, my friend asked me, “What are you planning to feed them?” Since the Feria was being held at Hotel Real de Chapala, I thought they would eat in the restaurant. That look came over her face again and she told me, “These people will not spend their money on expensive restaurant food. You need to provide them with something for breakfast and lunch and it should be food they are used to eating.”

It was about here that I thought about calling the whole thing off. The hotel was not prepared to offer me a discount on food, and since I was footing the bill for everything, I could not afford to feed everyone off the regular menu. What do I do? Well naturally, the only thing I could do was smuggle food in from another restaurant that would give me a deal on the food.

Surely, I was over the last hurdle, and then I realized I was going to need some help during the show - the phone list came out again. What would we all do without our friends? (And by the way, those same friends are still involved in the Feria today.)

In the beginning years, I hosted a dinner and dancing for all the artisans and volunteers. We laughed and got to know each other through Mexican music and dance.

Well, I won’t say hoards attended, but I was very pleased with the results of Feria Maestros del Arte #1. Meeting and spending time with these wonderful artists changed my life. Yes, there would be another Feria because I was “hooked” on helping these incredible people continue having at least one place in Mexico to sell their art at no cost to them. There was never a complaint; I was never asked for more than I offered, but I was always greeted with huge, warm smiles, and I’ve never been hugged so much in my life.

I don’t put the show on by myself anymore; it’s gotten too big. The volunteers that make this event happen are the most wonderful group of people I’ve ever worked with. Personal agendas don’t enter into what we do, there is no fighting or bickering, we all have our jobs to do and we do them to the best of our abilities.

The most important lesson I learned about organizing a large event is to treat your volunteers well. Everyone involved must enjoy themselves and have a good time. Great memories and a thank you go along way in keeping a group together. Thank you to all the volunteers who make Feria Maestros del Arte happen every year!

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