When I first moved here and marveled at all there is to do, a friend remarked enthusiastically that “Cincinnati has more festivals than weekends.”

So true! You could be out every night of the week and all weekend long at a different cultural event or festival. And consider this: two of our leading arts organizations helped establish Cincinnati as a festival destination decades ago. Founded in 1873, The May Festival is a thriving 142-year-old tradition and is the arguably among the most prestigious, choral music festivals in the western hemisphere. The Cincinnati Opera has always operated as a summer festival, dating back to 1920 when it was established as the nation’s second opera company – performing for the next 50 years at the Cincinnati Zoo! More recently, the Cincinnati Fringe Festival was created to showcase theater, dance, music, film, poetry and more that is pushing the boundaries of the art forms. I could go on an on.

Festivals appeal to audiences that want to interact with art and artists, be part of a larger experience, and do this in an informal setting – and all these things are part of larger trends in arts participation nationally. Cincinnati’s music and arts festivals give residents and visitors to our region something to enjoy and remember that is distinct to this place.

Because festivals celebrate uniquely “local” experiences that you can’t necessarily get elsewhere, cities across the country are leveraging their festivals to drive tourism and create positive buzz about a place. One blogger refers to festivals as part of “a movement to use events as economic drivers and urban brand builders.” They also foster an immense amount of civic pride close to home. Cincinnati had that experience with the World Choir Games—an arts-focused showcase that brought the world to our doorstep.

IMG_4771ArtsWave has been producing one of Cincinnati’s many festivals for nearly 30 years, and it’s coming up next weekend on March 7-8. Macy’s Arts Sampler is two days of more than 90 (nearly 100) free arts events that span from Japanese music to puppet shows to hip-hop dance. 

It’s a tradition that has grown up with a lot of local families, and I frequently hear stories of how adults remember going to Sampler events with their parents when they were kids. We see this pattern of family participation continuing, with about 50% of Sampler attendees going with children in tow.

We also know that Sampler is a great way to introduce people to the tremendous variety of high quality, distinctive arts activities that the region has to offer: only half of attendees report having visited that organization before the Sampler event, but 90% say that they are interested in going back for additional programs by that organization after Sampler.

For both longtime residents and those who are new to town, Macy’s Arts Sampler can be more than one great weekend of free arts.  It can be the spark to a new passion for the community, a moment when they discover something they have to be involved in as a fan, a volunteer, or an artist.  For tourists and visitors, our festivals can create lasting, shareable impressions of a region that is innovation and vibrant. That kind of impact is something to sing about.

What is your favorite Cincinnati festival experience? What’s your favorite Macy’s Arts Sampler memory? Tell us at #SamplerMemories and #Sampler2015.