March 1, 2016
Special Kind of Folk
Possessing a natural business sense and gifted creativity, Kim Pengelly is both a daydreamer and a night thinker, holding her in good stead as she prepares to take the reins of the Woodford Folk Festival.
fes·ti·val. a period or program of festive activities, cultural events, or entertainment: a music festival; a film festival.
It’s an apt description of what Woodford Folk Festival promises to be, and in my mind’s eye I see a kaleidoscope of culture and community, a chance to allow my inner boho to roam free from high heels and deadlines.
When I meet Kim Pengelly, discernible by her stack of bright notepads and lacy white kimono for our interview, she only enhances my expectations as she describes the internationally-renowned music, culture and arts festival that thousands flock to each year.
As we chat, Kim’s mobile buzzes. “Sorry, this is going to keep happening all arvo,” she laughs.
It’s no wonder she’s in demand, at just 28 years old the deputy general manager of Woodford Folk Festival is poised on a trajectory of career success, just over one year into a three-year handover to the general manager role.
“When we go to government-type stuff and top level sponsorship deals, you can feel the reaction when you walk into the room, they’re like, oh I didn’t expect you to be young,” Kim laughingly reveals.
“But I learnt on the ground, I was raised in a business-minded family so it’s always come naturally to me.”
Born in South Africa, Kim and her brother and parents moved to Australia when she was 11 years old. After graduating high school, she briefly studied event management on the Gold Coast before returning to study a Bachelor of Business at the University of the Sunshine Coast, scooping the award for Highest Achieving Student in Event Management in 2009, and graduating in 2010; Kim now returns to the university as a guest lecturer.
At just 23 years old, Kim’s university course coordinator recommended her for the job of commercial manager at Woodford Folk Festival, and having always had a passion to work with music and arts, Kim took on the challenge.
“I took on a big role actually, they took a risk with me,” Kim reflects.
“Certainly I was a bit of a baby in it really, but I just tackled it. I was so grateful and still am.”
A business and creative mind work hand-in-hand, it’s how I’ve always operated.”
Fast forward to 2015, marking Kim’s fifth festival and the festival’s 30th anniversary, and Kim was promoted to deputy general manager, as the Woodford Folk Festival scooped the major event category at the 2015 Australian Tourism Awards, beating out the Melbourne Cup Carnival at the “Oscars of the events industry”.
As deputy general manager, Kim commutes between her Coolum Beach home, where she lives with her builder partner Mitch, and her office on the picturesque 500-acre site at Woodford; she oversees a huge team, and manages the festival’s businesses and income streams, including 16 bars, 180 stallholders, artists and performers’ merchandise, two general stores and a dispatch department.
“It’s a unique business structure in that we have six days to make our annual income,” Kim explains.
The scope of the festival is incredible – manpower alone is 22 full time staff, who manage 250 department heads who then manage a team of 1700 volunteers. The 2015 festival featured 2000 performers and 408 performance groups from 17 countries, and with an economic impact of $30.4 million from the 2014 event for the south-east Queensland region, Kim estimates the economic impact of the 2015 festival to be higher, while awaiting verified statistics.
“The festival started out with an attendance of 700 people, in 2014 our aggregate attendants was 126,122 people so that’s pretty large scale growth,” Kim says.
“Last year (2015), our aggregate attendance was 129,000, so in a climate where it seems events are being cancelled frequently we are thrilled our attendance grew.”
During the six-day festival, Woodfordia is a cornucopia of music, arts, culture, food, atmosphere and community and Kim is at the beating heart of it all, working year-round on planning and logistics, mapping out the intricacies of the music, programming and design.
As happily as Kim exudes creativity, she mirrors the passion when it comes to business, and although Kim modestly won’t let me print the incredible percentage increase in sponsorships she’s achieved, she knows what her strengths are, and you bet she plays to them.
“A business and creative mind work hand-in-hand, it’s how I’ve always operated … if you fuse the two you can have some really good outcomes.”
Case in point, Kim has recently project managed a 900-page document for a multi-million dollar federal government infrastructure grant application for an amphitheatre stage to be built at Woodford, and is in talks with touring promoters for stadium-style artists.
Clearly driven, Kim shares the shape of her and the festival’s future.
“The three-year handover is where it’s at, at the moment. There’s a lot to learn, so much to take in. There’s certainly some ambitious artistic things going on, so being part of that and fusing business and arts is pretty much a dream.
“My favourite quote in the festival’s 500-year plan is, ‘we’ll build a forest of goodwill and benefit from its shade’. It’s not talking about KPIs and dollar figures, it’s talking about trading with ethics,” she smiles.
“Woodford gives people the opportunity to feel as though they are part of creating something rather than just consuming it. Our objective is to create a world that we wish the world to be all year around.”
And what a world it is, sunsoaked pebbled streets weaving through stalls of sparkling jewels and rainbow-bright threads, past a group yoga class, shouts for artisan iced coffee orders mingling with the thrum of a musical troupe, giant light puppets commandeered by wild-eyed entertainers as night falls, Woodford citizens following lanterns from campsites to the festival’s heart to revel in its colourful charm. Just like Kim, marching to the beat of her own drum.