As part of HYPE's mission to help young professionals become better engaged in community life and become ambassadors for the Hartford Region, the Civic Engagement Committee creates and organizes opportunities for members to engage in civics related programming, both locally and nationally, around topics of history, politics, and community matters impacting young professionals. The Civic Connects blog series focuses on interviewing professionals organizing annual events that bring people together in the City and impact the community. For the September edition, HYPEster extraordinaire and Civic Engagement Committee Member Kel Thomas (first of his name) interviewed John Michael Mason (who proudly uses all three of his first names), Owner and co-founder of Small State Great Beer.
Tell us about your event.
Small State Great Beer is an urban cultural beer festival that is held annually in Hartford. This year it will be on September 15, 2018 in and around Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford. There will be 50 drink vendors (over forty breweries, cider houses, and distilleries). There are three time-slots: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.; 6:30p.m. – 9:30p.m.; and a special VIP session starting at 5:30p.m. that runs through the evening events (participants will receive a special collectors glass which is larger than the typical tasting cup). You want to go VIP if you want to really do it right. ALL OF THE BEER IS LOCAL and we try to bring Connecticut and specifically Hartford back to the forefront. We will have a full music concert, amazing food trucks, and entertainment events. Each vendor will bring two types of beer. Much more than the run-of-the-mill beer fest, we focus on the community with this event and are making it an all-encompassing festival.
How long have you been involved and what is your role?
We are now in our third year and we’re very happy in regard to where we have come and what we have accomplished. We handle everything from media relations and advertising to booking and setup. I have a background in filmography and working with non-profits and I use my experiences to market our festival to sponsors and potential vendors, while also overseeing the staff and the volunteers that make the festival possible on the day of the event. Finally, we put a lot of effort into our social media pages such as Facebook and Instagram, and use those platforms to reach out to the region.
How do you engage the Hartford Community?
The most impactful way the community is engaged through Small State Great Beer is through the use of volunteers to work the festival. We also partner with non-profit and governmental organizations such as the iQuilt Plan, the Hartford Marathon Foundation, and CTDOT. We deal directly with local establishments for our resources. Another method we use to engage the Hartford Community is through the hiring of some temporary employees for the event. Finally, I believe that an important result of our engagement with the community is the business that stays in the City after and during the festival to patronize local establishments and hotels. A lot of people travel some distance to come to the festival and those people represent opportunity to our local businesses.
If budget were not an issue, what is one thing you’d like to add to this event?
Hire more staff! A lot of planning and networking goes into making Small State Great Beer possible and the bigger we get (we are growing substantially each year) the more staff that we need. We also appreciate how that impacts the Hartford economic community. Of course, having the financial freedom to source and build more and more experiential elements makes for a more memorable experience as well. It costs money to get Constitution Plaza lit!
In what ways are you looking to further grow this event, and how can someone get more involved?
MAKE IT HUGE! We plan Small State Great Beer a year in advance and we have numerous ideas for the future. We would like to build upon the festival experience and add more music and talent throughout the evening. We would perhaps add more family events during the day time. We always plan to add more video and promotional material to grow the event. I can’t tell you the rest of our plans so you’ll just have to keep coming to see what we have in-store for you...
The best way to get involved is to volunteer! There are a lot of moving pieces that have to be woven together to operate Small State Great Beer (because small isn’t really ‘small’) and we’re growing each year.