We spoke to Anna Baptiste, the event director for the Festival of Quilts and she agreed to give a very rare interview for us here at UKQU. Leave her a comment and someone will win a pair of tickets to this years event. They go on sale to the general public on Monday 15th April.
What is your Role at Twisted Thread
I’m the Event Director for the Festival of Quilts and The Knitting & Stitching Shows. What that means is that I am in charge of delivering the shows, from the content through to the smooth running at the show itself. I am in charge of the commercial success of the shows, as well as managing the team here to ensure the events meet or exceed visitor, exhibitor and sponsor expectations.
A typical day in your working life.. what does that involve
It’s always very busy and involves juggling lots of different things at once. I write at least 50 emails most days, relating to anything from negotiating with the venue, dealing with suppliers, working on new competition categories, responding to a visitor or arranging a meeting with a partner. Depending on the time of year, I could be researching artists or contacting well-known teachers to come in two years’ time, helping to write a marketing plan or getting a floor plan redrawn. As the show approaches, things get more chaotic! We have to ensure all parties are communicated with, make sure the sponsors are happy and have everything that was promised, budgets are up to date, the various teams are briefed and know what they’re doing, the final marketing activity is in place, the show guide is created and printed, exhibitors have their badges, car park passes and everything else they need…. the list goes on. It’s fast and furious!
We see your team rushing about on show day, but how many people does it take to set up a show.
There are actually only 8 full time staff who work on the show, plus 4 freelancers. But on top of that, we employ lots of people to help us deliver the show at the NEC. We have ‘hanging teams’ of around 8 people to hang all the galleries. There are the Angels (around 50 I believe) who hang the competition quilts, people to staff the Organisers Office, plus stewards, security, scanning staff to take tickets… it’s probably hundreds if you add everyone up! But the number of year-round staff is fewer than people think.
What happens behind the scenes to make FOQ the fabulous event we have grown to enjoy each year.
I like to think we improve every year, and we’re nearly a well-oiled machine after 17 years! The year looks a bit like this
August: Immediately after the show we generally take some holiday (!), then we do research (surveys to visitors and exhibitors) and write reports about what was good and what wasn’t. Exhibitors re-book their stands.
September – November: Invites to workshop teachers sent out, artists for galleries confirmed (although most artists are confirmed 18 months in advance).
Floor plan re-drawn (this year the stands were re-numbered based on feedback)
Meeting with Quilters Guild to discuss plans.
December: Advert designed, any new competition categories confirmed
January: workshop programme confirmed. Work begins on competition entry form. Marketing plan written.
February: Show leaflet designed, website updated, booking form for buying tickets starts being built, magazines contacted for partnerships and adverts booked,
March: Tickets & VIP badges designed and created, the workshop timetable is created in a document for download, competition entry form goes live.
April: Tickets go on sale, manual for exhibitors created and sent out, suppliers (eg stand fitters, AV suppliers, electricians) briefed and asked for quotes, competitions are promoted.
May: Competition entries come in thick & fast – each one is uploaded onto a database and a confirmation sent. Once all uploaded, a hanging plan is created so each quilt has its own allocated spot within its category. Once that is finished, each is numbered and this code marks the quilt in the show guide and on labels next to the work. This is the most complicated part of anything we do; we have to fit all quilts into a limited space and we don’t know how many entries will come in each year. People have no idea the impact of telling us they’d put the wrong dimensions on their entry form. We can’t simply move the quilt somewhere else easily and it can cause major issues. Then visitors complain because they quilt numbering doesn’t make sense!
June & July: Final stands are sold (hopefully!) and last changes are made to the floor plan. Final promotion of the show planned and implemented.
Schedule for signage is sent and the artwork is proofed, the main show guide and the competition catalogue are created. Packs are created for exhibitors and sponsors to collect on site.
Throughout all the above, the sales team are selling space and our Head of Sponsorship is trying to secure sponsors.
How closely do you liaise with the Quilters Guild in terms of the choices for the Quilts on exhibit or galleries
The guild have a number of their own galleries (this year they’re celebrating their 40th birthday) so they have a joint exhibition from the various Groups, plus the Guild Collection and In the Spotlight. They are not involved in the selection of all the other galleries in the show though. That is a joint effort between myself, our head of content and an advisory panel.
The Guild do provide advice in terms of competition categories and the definitions for them. We don’t have the knowledge to do this!
Who chooses the quilts that are shown each year?
The competition quilts are not juried, so we hang everything entered. The shows in Houston and Tokyo jury their quilts to ensure quality, but we like to be inclusive. We want to encourage newcomers and we don’t want to intimidate people. The Galleries offer the high quality and standard of professional quilters, but the competitions are for everyone. We asked the question in the survey last year as to whether visitors would prefer quality over quantity and we were pleased to hear we were doing the right thing! Over 65% said seeing a high number of quilts was more important than the standard.
When the doors close and all the show visitors have left, how long does it take to de-rig the halls.
We have to be out by midnight and you’d be shocked to see how quickly it all comes down. It’s all-hands-on-deck to get the quilts down, and the exhibitors are always keen to get out, and then it’s the electricians and stand fitters who are there until midnight. By then there’s nothing but bits of timber, wires, empty packing and lots of rubbish, it’s actually quite sad!
What has changed in the years since FOQ began in terms of trends and the size of the show.
So much has changed. The show is now about three times the size it was in 2003 (in terms of the space we use in the hall), and we have over double the number of visitors. For me the most notable change is the systems we now have in place. Creative Exhibitions (who launched the show) were a very small company with limited resource and budgets, so we did everything ourselves – down to printing tickets and sending them out! Now we’re a bigger company we have access to far better systems, which allows us to spend more time on making the show bigger and better.
There has to be anecdotes from the Shows. What makes you chuckle.
It makes me laugh that our best-selling FoQ T-shirt said ‘A quarter inch makes all the difference’. The average age of our visitors is 60 but they definitely have a saucy sense of humour!
The Festival of Quilts would make a great TV documentary; not only is it quite unbelievable that the show attracts so many people in four days, but it brings a weird and wonderful bunch of people together which I’m sure would make fascinating watching!
Where does your inspiration come from to keep everyone wanting more?
It’s so rewarding to work on a show where people are so passionate. Seeing queues of people, smiling faces and great feedback inspires me to keep doing more. This year FoQ won an award as Best Consumer Show and that was very motivating. Knowing you’re doing something right and having it recognised is a great feeling.
It’s also wonderful to be able to give people access to something that makes them genuinely happy. We secured Jenny Doan to come to the show this year and the response has been incredible; it’s validating that we know what we’re doing!
What would your predictions for 2020 be?
Well assuming Brexit doesn’t ruin the international element of the show, we’re planning more of the same exciting content! Headline speakers and artists (I can’t announce them yet!) are already being planned, and we intend to continue to grow the event for years to come. The footprint is likely to be even bigger – more quilts, more exhibitors, more workshops and more seats(!)
One subject often spoken about is the about is security at shows .. not just FOQ .. and a substantial amount of things disappear each year. What would you suggest to stallholders and visitors that might help stop this happening?
We are talking internally about how we address this. It’s very distressing for exhibitors and it’s horrible that people within this generally lovely community take the opportunity to steal. We recommend night sheets to make theft ‘after hours’ more difficult, and we’d ask visitors to report anything they see. We’re also considering other means to deter thieves; we take it very seriously but it’s very difficult to manage.
And finally, Lets hear about you .. what do you enjoy most in life?
I don’t get much time for myself because in addition to a challenging job, I have two children aged 8 and 5. They bring me so much joy! I read a lot, I love travelling and when I retire and have more time, I reckon I’ll learn to sew!!
Watch out for more interesting posts about the Festival this year .. and if you are not lucky with this giveaway we have more coming along, including tickets for the Jenny Doan Trunk Show for two lucky winners. Make sure you are logged in to leave a comment and be in with a chance. Winners will be chosen on 31st May, 19.