The city of Ames, Iowa will be saying goodbye to VEISHEA, the largest student-organized festival in the United States, after a university task force declared its cancellation this past month. This festival’s importance to the city of Ames lies in its ability to draw in tens of thousands of visitors, thus stimulating the local economy. Now in the wake of its cancellation the Ames economy may suffer.
VEISHEA was an annual celebration for Iowa State University (ISU) that lasted for one week each spring. Each letter in the name stands for one of the original colleges in the University: Veterinary Medicine, Engineering, Industrial Science, Home Economics, and Agriculture. The celebration’s primary purpose was to showcase the works of the university and the community through family-friendly events. Among these events was VEISHEA Village, a festival in which university clubs and departments provided demonstrations and entertainment. A parade was also held, as well as late-night activities for students such as concerts and a musical put on by the ISU theater department.
The 2014 VEISHEA was cancelled after rioting broke out midway through the week as a result of out-of-control partying, causing property damage and seriously injuring one student. A task force was created in order to determine the future of the festival, and the decision was made in August to permanently end VEISHEA. The VEISHEA festivities have a long history of rioting; three VEISHEA celebrations have been marred by rioting since 1988, all resulting from excessive drinking and partying. There has even been one fatality. This ongoing threat to safety and perpetual damage to property led to the decision to end the festivities.
While the cancellation of VEISHEA will protect the community from further property damage and threats to safety, there are concerns that the cancellation of VEISHEA will be detrimental to the local economy. The large amount of visitors to Ames for the event brought in a significant amount of business, pumping as much as $1 million into the local economy. While this figure does not account for the costs of property damage from rioting, the economic value of a festival goes beyond immediate profit for local businesses.
In Iowa, a state known for its small town life, popular festivals often help stimulate the economies of such towns. About two thirds of the cities in Iowa experienced population loss between 2010 and 2013, making it difficult for businesses in these towns to stay afloat. Local festivals can be a boon to these towns, by not only bringing in visitors but by creating a sense of place, which can attract people to stay as residents. An example of such a festival would be the Tulip Time event in Pella, Iowa, which transforms an otherwise unknown town into a tourist attraction.
With VEISHEA gone, the university and the city of Ames will no doubt be brainstorming other ways to draw in visitors. One event already in the works for April is a music festival. The university should remember, however, that any new events planned should not just be student-centered, but be for the enjoyment of the entire community, as VEISHEA was intended to be.
Has there been a popular festival or event in your city that was cancelled? What affect did the cancellation have on the community?
Credits: Images by Molly Carpenter. Data linked to sources.