WOO-ing College Students off Campus and Into the City

WooFest Showcases what Worcester has to Offer

Photo provided by Anna Spack.
Photo provided by Anna Spack.

Worcester County is home to thousands of college students. Why, then, was there no event in the city run by college students, for college students?

Clarkies Tricia Wise (’16) and Faith Kelnhofer (’16) had the same question. They decided to create WooFest, an arts and music festival targeting the city’s college demographic.

The first annual WooFest took place in the RE/MAX parking lot on the corner of Shrewsbury and Lyon Streets this past Saturday, September 12. Between 300 and 400 people attended the event, which featured local art and food vendors, as well as live bands and poetry.

The goals of the festival were to show college students all the cool things Worcester has to offer and to get students off campus and into the city.

Wise and Kelnhofer first came up with the idea last November. Both grew up in “college towns” (Wise is from Providence and Kelnhofer is from Athens, Ga.) and were surprised that there wasn’t as much for college students to do in Worcester, especially considering it has a larger population than either of their hometowns. The two seniors both love music festivals as well, so they wanted to create a similar event in Worcester that would provide students with more off-campus options.

Wise and Kelnhofer were particularly interested in attracting first-year students, since many are new to the city and don’t yet have a good sense of it. The idea was that if students go out into Worcester early on in their time here, they will better appreciate all that the city has to offer and are thus more likely to stay in the city after college.

“We wanted to engage students in Worcester to show that there are things off campus; you don’t just have to stay on campus,” said Kelnhofer.

“We feel like you really have to [look for] cool things in Worcester, and we wanted to make it easier,” Wise added.

The two turned their festival idea into a LEEP Project and went to work designing, organizing, and planning the event. They had help from various mentors, including Tina Zlody, Program & Events Coordinator of Clark’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, and Paul Giorgio, owner of Pagio, Inc., which publishes The Pulse and Vitality magazines and sponsors many city events including the Shrewsbury Street College Shuffle and Worcester Restaurant Week.

Wise and Kelnhofer also reached out to the city of Worcester for its support and ended up working closely with Che Anderson, a project manager and assistant to the City Manager. Anderson helped the pair get their idea off the ground and connected them with various people.

“We’re a city with 30,000 college students,” said Anderson. “You have to create events for them, and who better to guide us on what college students want than college students [themselves]?”
While there are a number of events in the city aimed at college students, Wise and Kelnhofer point out that none of them are actually run by students themselves. The two had a huge leg up; they know what college students want because they ARE college students.

“[Adults] don’t necessarily know what students want…. They’re doing it from an adult’s perspective of what they think would work,” Kelnhofer explained. “We kept ourselves in mind [when creating WooFest] because WE are our [own] target audience.”

When designing their LEEP Project, the pair made sure to keep in mind certain “buzzwords” that they knew would attract a college-age demographic. Words like “festival” and “music” tend to draw the attention of college students, for example. Above all, they made sure to emphasize that the event was free.

“We knew if this was offered but it was $10 to go, it wouldn’t matter how cool it was because the money [would] automatically make it not worth it,” said Kelnhofer.

The team also wanted to make sure to keep the event local, nonprofit, and “as DIY as possible.” The vendors were all local, and the bands were mostly underground acts. This, along with only advertising via social media and word of mouth, kept the festival’s budget extremely low – a mere $800.

The turnout wasn’t huge – Wise and Kelnhofer think they lost a lot of people to the three other major events happening in the city that same day, especially Worcester Pride – but they were still very happy with how it went.

“I like the more underground, low-key type of thing, and the fact that it wasn’t huge,” said Wise. “That’s kind of how Worcester is.”