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Reflecting on the Blueberry Arts Festival


The Blueberry Arts Festival is one of the most lively time of year in Ely. Everyone is out and about, the streets are lined with cars, the hotels are booked by visitors, and it takes ten minutes to get to one side of town with traffic instead of five. Sure, it might get obnoxiously busy, but it gets busy with people who love Ely (the best kind of people). The week before the festival one can see businesses start preparing for the swarm of visitors: some places decorate, some close and open a booth at the festival, the ambulance service has all staff on call, and the restaurants prepare more food. The Blueberry Arts Festival brings the hustle and bustle to Ely, and we couldn’t be happier with the action we get.


Boundary Waters Connect had the privilege of having a booth at the 2023 festival, and we enjoyed every single minute of it. We are already looking forward to the Harvest Moon Festival.

The set up for the festival included coming up with the idea of what we wanted our booth to look like: it’s the Blueberry Arts Festival so we figured it's basically a requirement to have blueberries at our booth. So of course, we created blueberry strings, some blueberry artwork, and we set out our custom blueberry activity book. Along with that, we had to figure out how to spread our message of economic development and community connectedness. We wanted something to draw people in and start a conversation. We created a pamphlet of BWC information along with a trivia game to win a tote bag! We had everything we needed… except for volunteers. We needed people in the community who care about the community. Our work is nothing if not by the people of Ely, for the people of Ely. So our search for volunteers began!


We arrived at the Festival on Thursday for practice set up and to make sure the ideas and plans we had could be executed. Friday morning came around and early in the morning we headed to the Festival and set up, preparing for the busy weekend ahead of us. We tied up our blueberry strings, placed our informational pamphlets out, hung up our banners, and waited for the first contact from festival goers. As the crowds started pooling in, the excitement and desire to share our program grew in our stomachs; we smiled at every passerby, whether they looked at us or not, hoping that they would come to engage with Boundary Waters Connect. Our volunteers showed up with smiling faces, ready to help their community and help our program in any way they could. We made sure that they felt prepared to talk to people at our booth by creating a volunteer pamphlet containing talking points, our mission statement, and all the details about the activities that BWC facilitates.

We had so many meaningful conversations with locals and tourists throughout the weekend. Ranging from talking about a visitor's first Boundary Waters trip to a new project at the hospital; we made so many meaningful connections with people. Getting to have these insightful conversations with all of these people really allowed us to share our message of providing economic development and community connection for Wilderness-edge communities.


The BWC staff’s hearts were full, as well as the volunteers who decided to dedicate their time to helping us help Ely. We cannot express our gratitude to our volunteers enough, and we know that they appreciate helping as much as we appreciate their help. Volunteering has so many benefits, and we have many opportunities for volunteerism through Boundary Waters Connect. If you would like to read more about the benefits of volunteering, please click HERE for the blog post on how volunteering gets you connected in the community, boosts your personal happiness, and increases your overall quality of life.


While wrapping up, we reflected on the weekend and the amount of outreach and connection we made while being at the Blueberry Arts Festival. We made connections with the community, with our volunteers, and with ourselves, through this journey of working a large event like this one. There are so many behind the scenes jobs that our city does to facilitate this wonderful Festival, and a lot of behind the scenes work from every jewelry shop, clothing shop, information booth, restaurant, and performance. We love our community of Ely, and we are so thankful for the Blueberry Arts Festival and everything that goes into it, and comes out of it.


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