Indianapolis Scottish Highland Games & Festival

storyCelts of all sorts and sizes will gather in Indianapolis this weekend for the city’s 7th annual Scottish Highland Games & Festival. Recently with spoke with event board member Steven Johnson about what attendees can expect.

What is your own ethnicity?
I am of Scottish and Native American descent through my mother. The largest clan affiliation I have is with Clan Douglas. Douglas is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. That part of my family is from eastern Tennessee.

When and why did you get involved with the Festival?
I was treasurer for the Scottish Society of Indianapolis in 2009 when we decided the time was right to organize our own highland games and festival. I enjoy being part of something new, so I looked forward to helping get our festival started. I left the SSI board of trustees at the end of 2009 to pursue my graduate degree, but remained involved with our festival every year, because I feel my contribution can help make it an exciting event for our patrons and members. More importantly, I take pride in being part of a dedicated group of volunteers.

What are your roles and responsibilities there?
For our first festival, I coordinated the entertainers and opening ceremony. I have worked in other areas over the years. I joined the board of trustees again in 2014 and since then I have served as the treasurer. I am responsible for managing our bank accounts and all monies coming in and going out. Because we have two organizations, the Scottish Society of Indianapolis and the Scottish Foundation of Indianapolis, I have to track income and expenses for each entity separately.

What are the challenges involved?
Two of our biggest challenges are gathering sponsorships and promoting the festival. But just like whether the chicken or the egg came first, we need sponsorship in order to advertise and we need to make more people aware of our festival so sponsors know their investment is well-spent.

What are the rewards?
The best reward for me is seeing how much people enjoy the festival. Our co-chairs and organizing committee have worked all year for this one day and we love to see the smiling faces on people enjoying the bands, or the “oohs” and “aahs” when people are watching the athletes compete. Next would be knowing that our festival is supporting cultural education, with an endowment for Scottish Gaelic studies at Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis.

Why is it an important event for the community?
I think it’s important for people to connect to their heritage and our festival helps our community learn more about its Scottish and Celtic roots.

Who traditionally attends the Festival?
Many who attend our festival are of Scottish, Celtic, or Irish descent. Others are people who just enjoy outdoor events, listening to bands, or seeing highland games in person.

What can they expect this year?
We had about 70 athletes compete in 2015 and patrons can expect as many or more this year. New this year is the era represented by our re-enactors, who will portray Bonnie Prince Charlie and his court. We received great feedback about our vendors, so people can expect several returning vendors along with a couple new local ones.

How has the event evolved through the years?
Our festival has grown every year, and as a result, we have had to make changes. One of the first growth spurts was in our third year when we outgrew the land used for the previous festivals. While we have enough room for more patrons now in our current location, we will soon need a larger space to accommodate larger bands and more clans and vendors. Our re-enactors have changed eras over the years to have new activities for patrons to see and participate in. Our organizing committee works hard to make the festival better for participants and patrons, so people won’t see the same thing year after year.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
I guess as long as our membership will have me, I will be the treasurer. I plan to be in this position for a couple more years at least. As a board member, I have a responsibility to the membership to be involved with the biggest event of the year. I like working with our co-chairwomen and the organizing committee, so I know I’ll be involved in our festival somehow.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
I participate in as many of our events as I can throughout the year. We work year-round to educate people about Scottish and Celtic culture at our monthly programs and participation in other events. We have pitch-in dinner meetings so our members and guests can socialize with each other and learn from each other.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
Our Scottish Society of Indianapolis, and all of the clan associations and Scottish festivals around the country face a big hurdle to preserve a heritage which for so many of us is many generations ago. I think more can be done to promote our Celtic culture but we need to learn more about how to get our message across in a way that people will respond.

What can we be doing better?
I really enjoy representing our Society because I like helping people discover their heritage, but that may only be at a few festivals during the year. I think we can do better at connecting with other organizations to share our knowledge with their audiences.