STEAM rises during Farmington Founders Festival

More than a month has passed since the Greater Farmington Founders Festival, and one thing seems certain: People have differing opinions about how it went.

Organized by the Greater Farmington Area Chamber, the event brought music, food vendors, activities for kids and teens, and a little controversy to downtown Farmington. Events were also held at Shiawassee Park.

Chamber Director Mary Martin, who was hired last November, jumped into the planning process by meeting with committees in December. She said the STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Math) theme reflected what’s happening in the community, such as the opening of the Farmington Public Schools STEAM Academy in the former Dunckel Middle School on 12 Mile Road.

Hackbots at the Founders Festival
The Hackbots drew attention on Farmington Road with their robotics display.

New activities included two days of “STEAM Heat” in Shiawassee Park with the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum and a Mad Science show on the State Street stage. Martin said a booth on Farmington Road showcasing the Hackbots, a Farmington Public Schools robotics team, was also a big hit.

“The kids were just drawn to that,” she said. “They loved it… Seeing how those were accepted, I was really happy about that.”

The popularity of a Friday “Light the Night” display of hot air balloons in Shiawassee Park “caught everybody by surprise,” Martin said. Hundreds of people showed up to watch the balloons, even though they never left the ground.

Greater Farmington Founders Festival
Hot air balloons light up the night and drew hundreds of people to Shiawassee Park.

But the event wasn’t without controversy. One business owner was particularly vocal on social media with complaints about the closing of Farmington Road, which restricted access to his business.

Martin said the decision was made to carve out a space for kids who were “too old for bounce houses” and activities in Shiawassee Park. The State Street stage hosted shows from morning through late afternoon; some booths, several inflatables, and a climbing wall filled in the area south of State.

Founders Festival
Activities for older children occupied Farmington Road during Founders Festival.

One perpetual complaint in recent years has centered around the “Crafters Marketplace,” formerly located on Farmington Road and moved this year to Riley Park and Market Place, the street on the park’s west side. Crafters and artists displayed their wares but seemed outnumbered by commercial vendors, like home improvement and home-based businesses.

Farmington Voice reader Kristen O’Dea pointed out a conflict that may limit the Festival’s ability to draw more creatives.

“In my opinion, Farmington won’t be in a position to compete for crafters/artists if (the Festival is) held the same weekend as the Ann Arbor Art Fair,” she said. Also held the third weekend in July, that event draws hundreds of artists from around the country.

Lesa Ferencz, also a Voice reader, said the Crafters Marketplace usually brings her family out for the daytime part of the festival. This year, they “browsed very little, bought nothing.”

“We don’t give the commercial, informational, and carnival-type booths any of our attention,” she said. “The layout felt very disjointed to me which left the daytime activities feeling empty and frustrating. Our faith in the craft booth part of the festival has been slim to none for a very long time.”

“We shopped at Bead Bohemia, Sunflour Bakehaus, and Dagwood’s while we were in town for the festival,” she added.

Martin said she has considered adding something like a Maker Faire next year.

“If we did that with the STEAM stuff, that would be great branding for us,” she said.

Financially, the Festival brought in about 5.5 percent more in revenues over last year. What stood out most in her first year, Martin said, was the community, the volunteers (including many Chamber members), attending a “heart-warming” Miss Farmington pageant, and the success of the first-ever Color Run, which preceded Saturday’s parade.

“Those are the kinds of things I can look back on and say, that was so much fun, and the community embraced them,” she said.