INDUSTRY UPDATE: Bill Darpino, Executive Director of Creation Festivals, On the Need for Focused Experimentation

By February 12, 2015Industry Update, Interview

Under the leadership of Executive Director Bill Darpino, Creation Festivals has enjoyed a season of expansion and success when others in live entertainment have struggled with the bottom line. Creation now boasts five summer festivals – including the additions of Ichthus and Sonshine – along with Creation Concerts in the Spring and Fall.

With a reach of over 75,000-100,000 attendees each year, Creation is a leading brand in Christian entertainment and ministry impact. We recently sat down to ask Bill about the risk-taking culture of Creation Festivals and how they maintain that value even through the lean times.

After the economic downturn, it’s not news that some festivals really struggled to come back and have even closed. Creation, on the other hand, has enjoyed strong success in recent years. I’m sure there are a number of things that all come together there, but what are some important elements that allowed that to happen?

I think it’s really a positive time for us in live entertainment. I mean, people still want to listen to music, and one of the best ways to do that is to engage the artist, speaker or entertainer they look up to at a live experience. For us, we have a real advantage in that we have something that really impacts people’s lives in a very unique way that’s not always easy to duplicate or recreate. We’re very fortunate in that sense.

Any industry coming off of the economic downturn in our country and even globally… I don’t think anyone is void of some of the impact of that. It was just too broad sweeping, from my perspective. But when you look at the general market live events or even in our industry, touring is still picking back up. Festivals are doing okay, and on the general market side, things are going very well.

For us, the real focus needs to be on continuing to find ways to further the mission of what we do and impact people’s lives that are coming in a very real way. That happens through the experience that happens at our festivals. The more we can do to do that better, to do that with purpose and still provide good value for families, church groups and those attending, then I think we’ll be fine.

What are some of the recent successes you’ve experienced in the last year or so? 

For me, some of the successes have been trying to do what we do better and seeing that actually play out. We never want to get complacent. We always want to push the envelope to do new things and stay relevant to the current culture. So whether that’s with programming or new experiences that help further the gospel to impact people’s lives, we’re always adding new things into the events. Some of those things have been successful, but others have not. Like anyone else, you just turn your attention to what’s successful and continue to build on those.

Some of the things on that front are with our churches. One of the things we do that’s very important to us is having a strong presentation that delivers the word of God and being evangelistic in everything we do. The more we focus on that, the better we do that. For us, the events are stronger because we’re doing what we feel called to do. We feel that God honors that.

I love the statement of trying new things. It seems to describe a culture that’s okay if something doesn’t work out as long as you’re trying new things. Is that accurate?  

Absolutely. In the culture we live in right now, there’s so much available to all of us in an instant. So it’s easy to try things in a small way and get quick results and then start to move left or right and find your center around where you need to be. I think it’s important not to get distracted from what it is you do best as well. I think it’s easy to keep up with every little thing that comes down the pike, but that’s a danger as well.

If we try to do too many things, then you’re not doing anything well. That’s easy to do in today’s current culture and climate. It doesn’t mean you don’t change or you look for ways to be relevant within those changing times, but you do it in a way that doesn’t take away from what people have identified with for so many years.

When times get lean, is it hard to protect that culture that tries new things? 

I think it becomes harder to protect that if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Getting involved with what we do, there’s the work of what we do and the business, but it’s also always been very much a calling to be a part of something larger and more impactful. I’ve always felt like this is where God has had me.

That’s always been a guiding principle for me. When you approach things from that level, it helps you when you have to make some of those big decisions. Starting out that way has always helped to keep that in the forefront of our minds. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but approaching it that way from the beginning have helped me when the times have gotten harder throughout that time span to keep that in the forefront.

Creation has added to the roster in recent years. Is there a primary guiding factor in how you decide the direction to expand and where to avoid? 

It has to fit within our core values. It has to fit into the reason why we do what we do. Creation Festival events are very evangelistic in nature. They’re supportive of the local church. So anything we would consider would be within those. We seek counsel. We pray about it. We make sure it doesn’t disrupt what we’re currently doing in a negative way. It’s also about where we’re feeling led to go. It should also help expand the outreach of what we feel called to do. Those are some of the things we take account of when we’re looking at new opportunities and exploring them as they come along, which they do quite a few times.

Are you looking at any further expansion at this time? 

No, we’re focused in on these four or five events that we’re doing. Over the next year, we’re just trying to continue to be as good as we can be and as strong as we can be. Beyond that, we don’t have anything too new in the works. We always have opportunities presented to us, but we’ll just see what happens. We’ll see what’s out there.

Any new programming aspects that you’re experimenting with?

There are some new programming aspects that we just put out in our annual publication for our festivals. We’re doing a new thing called Creation Plus, which is an opportunity for a youth leader or church leader to plug into more of a smaller community type conference event within the actual festival itself where they can also have meals provided for them throughout the week, plug into extra seminars, go to chapel with a smaller worship aspect to it. It’s a smaller community within the larger that churches and youth groups can plug into on that front. We’re pretty excited about that to be able to partner and serve churches and youth leaders on a greater level.