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Boulder Goes International with Jaipur Literature Festival

by on November 9, 2015

For one weekend in September, Boulder, Colorado, was host to dozens of international authors talking about everything (except their books) as part of a new satellite of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The Jaipur Literature Festival, or JLF, is a free-to-the-public festival that brings together writers, poets, and thinkers from around the world to talk about big ideas like life and society, economics and the arts, equity, freedom, and the environment.  The main festival, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, has been held in Jaipur, India, since 2006, and another satellite festival was in London earlier this year.

It was surprisingly easy to bring this international festival to Colorado.  A Boulder resident, Jessie Friedman, had attended the flagship JLF in India and wanted to bring it back to Boulder.  She got in touch with the company that runs the festival, Teamwork Arts, and found that they already been looking for a location in the United States.  After considering cities across the US, the company decided on Boulder for the festival location.  When Teamwork Arts approached the Boulder city government in the fall of 2014 about participating, Director of Library and Arts David Farnan said, “We have to do it.”

Over the course of the next year, Farnan and two staff members – the library’s program coordinator and head of public services – put in hundreds of hours of work on the festival.  They helped put Friedman and the team from the JLF in touch with organizations who could provide money for the festival, whether directly or through grants.  The library team also hosted parties to get individuals interested in funding the festival and its programs.

For next year’s festival, Farnan will be looking for more corporate sponsorship in addition to the individual and nonprofit sponsorship and grants from this year.  Nearly 80 percent of this year’s budget came from grants.

The festival was held on the grounds of the Boulder Public Library and Civic Lawns, in one large and two smaller meeting rooms inside the building, as well as on the park grounds outside the building.  Except for computer access, which was limited when they emptied the large meeting room of its public computers, the library operated as normal throughout the festival.

Farnan said staff members were excited about hosting the festival at the library, which was probably helped by the fact that most of the planning and executing were done by Teamwork Arts.  Staff members who were scheduled to work the days of the festival were given the same volunteer training as other festival volunteers so that they would feel confident in helping visitors navigate the festival, but otherwise they worked their regular jobs and shifts.

Overall, Boulder’s JLF saw 8,000-10,000 attendees at all programs during the two-day festival.  Of those “butts in seats,” Farnan estimated that there were about 2,000-3,000 individual attendees.  He hopes that when the festival comes around again next September, they will triple both of those estimates.

The JLF brought in regular library users, brand new attendees, and even some long-awaited returning customers.  “We were pleasantly surprised by the number of people who came to the festival who hadn’t stepped into the library in thirty years,” said Farnan.

To other libraries thinking about putting on a similar event, Farnan said, “Take a risk.”


Farnan, David. Interview by author. October 9, 2015.

Hoffert, Barbara. “Jaipur Literature Festival Comes to Boulder Public Library.” Library Journal. Accessed October 9, 2015. http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/2015/10/prepub/jaipur-literature-festival-comes-to-boulder-public-library

JLF @ Boulder. Accessed October 12, 2015. https://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/boulder/

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