When Minnesota started shutting down in March due to COVID-19, closures and cancellations seemed to be coming in every minute, and the Loft Literary Center’s second annual Wordplay book festival was in limbo. But instead of canceling or postponing the May 9 event, the organizers realized that going virtual could be an option – as a way to still support the nearly 100 authors scheduled to attend and promote the books they worked so hard to write, as well as give book enthusiasts an activity to do while in quarantine.
Our team helped the Loft get the word out – quickly drafting a press release announcing the cancellation of the in-person event, but also unveiling a brand-new, virtual event series that would still provide conversations, readings, happy hours, etc. and bring people together, even while apart.
The festival kicked off April 7 with a live discussion and workout with Minnesota Olympian Jessie Diggins. Since then, there have been more than 50 virtual sessions (all archived on the Loft’s website if you want to watch any of them!), 95 participating authors and more than 40,000 people tuning in from all over the world. For frame of reference, last year’s inaugural two-day event brought 10,000 people to Minneapolis.
“It’s different to count in-person attendees and virtual attendees, but 40,000 attendees was a goal we had in our 5- to 10-year plan,” said Steph Opitz, founding director of Wordplay. “Seeing that many people come together to support these authors during this time was remarkable, and we’re looking into options to incorporate virtual elements into future events – to continue reaching a broader audience.”
Since the virtual structure was unprecedented for the Loft – this was only the second year of the festival, after all – it was a week-by-week effort. We worked closely with the Wordplay team to share with media the upcoming week’s sessions, resulting in top-tier local coverage in the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Monthly, MinnPost and more. The creative pivot also scored some national attention.
With the festival now wrapped up, we’re wistful that we weren’t there for the hustle and bustle of an in-person event, but thankful that we could help play a part in this innovative festival that brought not only Minnesota’s literary community together, but the world’s.