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Nonprofit Champion: Ann Richardson 

Managing director of the Sisters Folk Festival, helping bring music to children in the community

  • Jay Mather/Source Staff


fter this summer's smoke and fires, you may have been wondering how the cancellation of this year's Sister Folk Festival affects the organization's wider community efforts. For Managing Director Ann Richardson, the outlook still looks bright for the festival—as well as the community outreach programs that help the children of Sisters and Central Oregon.

"The Sisters Folk Festival, it's the most visible part, it's the tip of the iceberg," Richardson says. "It's also what's down below. The education, scholarships, the music and arts we invest in our community."

Richardson brings many years of organizational development to the table. Previous to joining the team at the Folk Festival, Richardson worked as the executive director of the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, helping the org achieve nonprofit status during her 11 years there. But Richardson began helping at Sisters Folk in 2009, bringing her event and nonprofit management expertise.

"For me, the involvement with nonprofits, anything that benefits the community of Sisters is something I'm involved in," Richardson says.

Richardson says the organization recently surveyed a group of 50 people and asked them to describe their work to someone who didn't know about them. According to Richardson, most people responded with, "What a great three-day music festival." Now she says they hope to do a better job of telling their story, as the Sisters Folk Festival and The Americana Project raise funds for music and arts programs in Sisters and throughout Central Oregon.

"I think it's important for the kids," Richardson says. "Music is an awesome cultural opportunity, it brings people together from all walks of life. The lifelong learning component, through music or the arts, it's a passion, an outlet. For us, to be able to do that is super important to our community. If you look at the luthier program, it's not just about making an instrument. The kids learn engineering, music, different skills and the knowledge base that goes into building that."

The organization also brings musicians into the community to teach kids and expose them to a broader array of music styles. Musicians enter the schools, do guest residencies and workshops through the Americana Song Academy.

"Kids come back and play at the festival, volunteer their time, it's one big love fest in Sisters. Do good things for the community and they will support you," Richardson says.

In addition to music and arts programs in the Sisters School District, the Festival also funds scholarships through the Family Access Network. FAN then distributes the scholarships for piano lessons or dance. Recipients can build a guitar or take lessons for as long they want—not just for the current school year. Local musicians giving the lessons also get paid through the program—helping them sustain their business, and the local economy.

"It's life changing for these kids, and what a relief for their parents to not say 'no,'" Richardson says.

The September music festival, which acts as the organization's largest fundraiser, was canceled this year due to smoke and hazardous air quality from nearby wildfires. Many have been wondering how that will affect next year's fest. According to Richardson, it won't affect operations for the coming year, and they were able to offer a partial refund—even though technically the tickets were non-refundable.

"For the refund, 35 percent was low, lower than some people would have liked, but` not knowing how many people would take it, we had to do some guess work," Richardson says. "We're still coming out financially sound, thanks to the generosity of so many people, ticket holders, artists, vendors, who were very generous, lots of people on both sides of revenue and expense. We're able to fully fund everything we're committed to."

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