September 2008. Auction wall hanging donated by Jane Robertson.
Header image: Auction wall hanging donated by Jane Robertson

Featured Artist: Simon Couvier

by Jessica Hirt

Simon Couvier with George Annis at the 2008 Sault Summer Arts Festival ... Simon Couvier with George Annis at the 2008 Sault Summer Arts Festival

Simon Couvier at the 2008 Sault Summer Arts Festival

The annual Sault Summer Arts Festival is a day filled with arts, crafts, prizes, and entertainment. Many people only see the day of the festival and do not fully realize how much time and effort were expended to make the festival a success. One such area is the entertainment provided by local artists. The amount of work it takes to find and to arrange the delivery and set-up of the equipment necessary to run this event is substantial. Thankfully, there is someone who can keep all the details, names, and simultaneous phone calls straight, and her name is Simon Couvier. She has been the entertainment chairman of the Sault Area Arts Council for over 20 years, but her working experience in this role doesn’t stop with just the Arts Council.

Couvier has gained much of her knowledge as an event coordinator through Friendza Folk, a folk art network that she founded. Engaging folk art artists from around the country, Couvier persuaded them to come to our community and play. Part of her job description included finding accommodations, food, a public address system, and a stage, and promoting the event with fliers, radio announcements, community calendars, and any other medium she could use. She also asked for donations of food and money, making connections with people that would continue to help her years later and in different situations.

Couvier’s reputation grew as the artists rated her ability to plan the event, provide for the artists, and deliver what she promised. Though she also evaluated the performers, her talent for working in this area became apparent as artists continued to give Couvier high marks. As word of Couvier’s success spread, artists would contact her in order to have the opportunity to work with her. The more performers she brought, the more good reviews she received.

Now we are fortunate to have her use those same skills for the Sault Summer Arts Festival, and her influence and talent have not diminished. As an intern for Alberta House, it was my privilege to work with her “behind the scenes” and to assist in preparing for the entertainment portion of the arts festival. The level of organization, understanding, and energy needed to put on this event is enormous, and all must be done with grace and a smile, even when things don’t work out. And somewhere along the line, something is bound to go wrong.

Arranging the set-up of tables, chairs, and the stage has proven more difficult than most would imagine. Couvier has explained that there was a time when expected resources weren’t there, yet she was pleased to be able to locate the manager of the volunteer organization she was working with, who came in on his day off, to obtain the necessary equipment. Another year the set-up volunteers put the stage in the wrong place entirely, and it wasn’t until the day of the festival that Couvier noticed its unusual placement. Instead of settling with its location in the field, Couvier and quite a few volunteers and artists picked up the stage and moved it to its proper place. The large stage could not have been easy to move. These different accounts of mishaps at the festival demonstrate Couvier’s determination and the teamwork necessary to put on a significant event.

True leadership involves flexibility and the ability to adapt, and is more apparent when things are not going well. For instance, having entertainment without a public address system could be considered an insurmountable obstacle, yet Couvier has the capability to quickly recognize a potential solution and take advantage of it. Instead of failure came a memorable occasion; the artists didn’t use the stage. Instead, they walked around in the audience and sang. As Couvier told me repeatedly, if the audience doesn’t know that there is a problem, then there isn’t one. They acted like nothing was wrong, and it provided a unique opportunity to spotlight the artists. It was an effective response to a challenging situation.

The problems and issues that arise on the day of the festival do not outweigh the stress of trying to accomplish all the little things before hand. Often times, it seemed, Couvier had a running list of things to do, and just when I finally felt like we had to be getting close, she would tackle something else. We needed donations, not only of money and food, but of time and talent. Many, many phone calls had to be made to ensure that everything would be in the right place at the right time—the stage, public address system, tables, chairs, garbage cans, awnings, etc., and then one has to find organizations that will transport them from the storage facility to the site, set them up, tear them down, and return them. These organizations are not directly linked to Alberta House; however, they have always been there to assist.

A volunteer-based festival takes significant planning and effort. On occasion, little issues come up with the volunteers themselves, and Couvier jumps in to do their job until they arrive, if they can, or finds a quick replacement. She always emphasized that if the organizer helps the volunteers, they will more than likely help you in the future. Her years of work and experience have assisted her in developing many wonderful contacts and have provided opportunities for her to assist others.

The festival is an opportunity for Couvier to use her skills and talent to entertain others; she doesn’t do anything halfway. Each year, the entertainment portion of the festival is bigger and better, and each year the amount of work she puts in increases. All of Simon Couvier’s hard work is evident in the success of the event.

Editors note: Jessica Hirt has been working with the Sault Area Arts Council as a summer intern from Lake Superior State University. Her primary assignment was to work with Simon Couvier, who has been, almost totally single-handedly, producing the musical portion of the Sault Summer Arts Festival. Jessica proved to be a triple talent, giving Simon the help she needed, doing a beautiful job of writing up her experiences, and taking photographs. We are very grateful to Jessica, to her advisor Dr. Gary Balfantz, and to LSSU for her very able, and much-needed and appreciated assistance. Future articles by Jessica Hirt will appear in subsequent issues.

Last updated: September 1, 2008

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: Phone: (906) 635-1312