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OnePlan’s International Women’s Day Feature: Celebrating Women in Events

International Women's Day at OnePlan

As a leader in the event planning industry, OnePlan is proud to support and empower the women who are making outstanding contributions to the events industry. From event planners and producers to designers and technicians, these women are at the forefront of shaping the future of events. At OnePlan, we have had the pleasure of working with many of these outstanding women who are paving the way generations of women to come.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are thrilled to share their stories and insights, highlighting the important role that women play in the events industry. Let’s take a closer look at the experiences of these exceptional women and the impact they are making on the industry.

Jessie Smith Assistant Festival Director for Waterfront Blues Festival

Jessie Smith, Assistant Festival Director, Waterfront Blues Festival

Waterfront Blues Festival Logo

What inspired you to pursue a career in events, and how did you get started in the industry?

I’ve always been an avid event-goer, with a passion for live music. In college, I was still trying to figure out my direction when I heard about an opportunity to intern with a local music festival, Common Ground, in Lansing, MI. As a music festival enthusiast myself, I figured why not try to make a career of a current passion! 

For eight months, I assisted in corporate sponsorship, marketing and event production — even dealing with a last-minute headliner cancellation. This internship showed me how much I enjoyed seeing a project come to life, with all the nitty-gritty details — and how much the go, go, go was exhilarating! It felt natural to translate the passion I had for music festivals into creating a well-rounded, thoughtful experience for the fans. 

From that internship, I connected with a local promoter and was able to see a different side of the music industry, furthering my experience. After college, I pivoted into nonprofit events and projects, and I quickly realized I preferred a career that wasn’t solely behind a desk. And that gets me to where I am now — after a big move across the country, I found a home at the Waterfront Blues Festival and Fuller Events, and I’m now working my dream!

Can you share a particularly memorable event you’ve worked on and why it was so special?

I started with the Waterfront Blues Festival team in January 2020 – which was quite the time to start! Within two months, I helped launch the 2020 initial lineup and then cancel the festival – its first cancellation since its inception in 1988. Our team pivoted though to ensure our festival carried on in the most amazing, resilient way. 

We organized a three-part series that featured a TV special, a two-day radio program and my favorite, the Blues Fest Bandwagon. The Bandwagon brought live music to driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland Metro Area on July 3 and 4. Fans nominated their favorite friend, frontline hero, or family member to be the recipient of this socially-distanced fun. With nearly 200 nominations, eight lucky fans were selected. The Bandwagon quite literally was a band on a wagon, a custom buildout of a flatbed trailer turned into a front yard concert. The 90-minute performances were electric and emotional. 

Once the intimate shows were done, our team would pack up the supplies, batten down the hatches, and head to the next driveway concert. We even traveled with a port-a-potty on wheels – the whole activation was mobile, turnkey and ready to go! For many of the hired musicians, it was their first paid, live music gig since the global pandemic hit. 

For most of the lucky attendees, it was the first time they had experienced live music in months. The pure joy and comradery that our team, the musicians and the fans felt was incredible and so needed after such a tumultuous time. (Here’s a video from the event!)

Ashley Russo Event Production for Mosaic

Ashley Russo, Producer, Event Production for Mosaic

Mosaic Logo

What inspired you to pursue a career in events, and how did you get started in the industry?

Alike many others, I would say the events industry found me versus the other way around! I was pursuing an education in International Development at the time, with the hopes of working for Global NGOs and Non-for-Profit organizations to support their cause-oriented pursuits – or in other words, make the world a better place to live. 

When I finally graduated and got my feet wet in the industry, I soon realized that many of the more junior roles involved much travel and little financial security; a challenging place to start building a strong career foundation and a family back at home. A dear mentor of mine at the time opened my mind to the multiple ways I could support these organizations efforts and had me reflect on my strengths and experience thus far. So I got thinking about what I was already up to! 

To help fund my education during University I worked in the Hospitality, Marketing and Events Industry, both for large corporations and for small business owners. It was such a joy and an industry I also found very fulfilling. As a next step, it just made sense to consider joining the two and pursue a career in organizing Non-For-Profit and Cause Marketing Events. After receiving a post-grad in Sports and Events Marketing at George Brown College, I landed my first Event Management role organizing a large Peer to Peer Fundraising event that in my first year raised over 20 million dollars for Cancer Research. It was definitely a launch I wasn’t expecting, an opportunity I was grateful for nonetheless!

Arwen Helene, Production Manager, Winnipeg Folk Festival

Arwen Helene, Production Manager, Winnipeg Folk Festival

Winnipeg Folk Festival Logo

What inspired you to pursue a career in events, and how did you get started in the industry?

I’ve always been a fan of festivals and live events and was involved in the Winnipeg Folk Festival from a young age as a volunteer and then as a summer job. When I had the opportunity to start working on the event production side, I fell in love with the work and never looked back!

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?

There have been numerous challenges, from severe weather to overflowing toilets! But the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for our industry like no other. I’m grateful that our organization leaned into that challenge by learning new things, upgrading our skills, and assessing how we do things to overcome the new challenges we face as event organizers.

Can you share a particularly memorable event you’ve worked on and why it was so special?

Every summer seeing the gates open is an emotional experience. We work so hard throughout the year and to see everyone streaming into our venue with smiles on their faces is so rewarding.

What advice do you have for women who are just starting out in the events industry?

Be confident and believe in yourself! It’s easy to doubt yourself especially as a woman or gender diverse person in a traditionally male dominated industry. Take every opportunity to learn gain experience.

Maria Solomon, Senior Producer, RedPeg

Maria Solomon, Senior Producer, RedPeg

Can you share a memorable event you’ve worked and why it was so special?
The Olympic and Paralympic movements have demonstrated the universal power of sport and its ability to level the playing field. Working for the Sydney Paralympics at Stadium Australia remains an unparalleled memory. Stadium Australia hosted all of the athletics events.
During a moment of downtime I was able to watch one of the visually impaired 1600 meter heats. For some background, Paralympic runners train and compete alongside sighted guides utilizing a running tether to keep them connected. The race was incredibly exciting but the most memorable part was its finish. Entering the last 200 meters one of the athletes pulled away from the rest of the heat and was running so fast, that he had outpaced his guide. So as to keep his current pace, his guide severed the tether, which enabled the athlete to sprint faster toward the finish line. The guide followed closely behind shouting instructions to keep the athlete safe through the end of the race. 
What advice do you have for women who are just starting out in the events industry?
Be open to experiences that are unconventional. Oftentimes, we won’t know where our opportunities will pop up so as a rule of thumb, try to remain open even if there doesn’t appear to be a path forward.
Be curious; ask questions, even if the answer appears obvious. Sometimes the obvious answer isn’t necessarily the right one or the complete story. I’ve longed since learned that no one or event is perfect.
It’s okay to make mistakes because it’s how you learn. It’s not the mistake that matters but what you do after the mistake that is more telling of your character. Knowledge is power, wise leaders share it and give it out willingly. No two events are the same, which makes the event industry both rewarding and challenging. 

Through their experience and advice, we hope to inspire and empower women in the events industry and beyond. These women serve as role models, showing that with hard work and dedication anything is possible. Let’s celebrate the achievements of these remarkable women and learn from their experiences, as we work towards a more inclusive and diverse events industry for everyone.

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