Behind the scenes at Sydney Festival with Damian Negus
This week’s Q & A is particularly relevant to summer event lovers as it focuses on CoEM guest lecturer and all round good guy Damian Negus, who very cleverly manages Sydney Festival’s favourite oasis of fun and delights, the Festival Village, this year sponsored by Meriton. And if you think that gig is big enough and busy enough for one event manager you would be right, but Damien is not one to rest on his laurels. In fact, rest is not a word in his vocabulary. He is now heavily and bravely involved in the production and organisation of one of the newest music festivals to hit Sydney’s summer scene, Electric Gardens. Let’s hear a little about the trajectory of his event career and a little bit of advice from the man who seemingly doesn’t sleep. Over to you Damian…
Q. Years in event management industry?
A. I unloaded my first truck one Sunday morning in 1989 when I was 16 in my home town of Parkes. I fell in love with the energy that was attached to event and have been involved in one area or another ever since.
Q. What’s your favourite event (and why)?
A. Festival Village at Sydney Festival. I have been involved for the last six years and when you put so much energy into something, it becomes part of you. I couldn’t imagine spending my January anywhere else than in the middle of our great city throwing a month long party!
Q. Career highlights?
A. I once toured with AC/DC as the Assistant Tour Manager and Assistant Site Manager. Being ‘my’ band from my high school days, that gig was always a stand out for me. To work with your idols is something I don’t take for granted and will be forever be grateful. I also had the pleasure of touring with Elvis Presley’s Band, the TCB Band. I spent many hours with the guys and formed friendships that still last today. The Sydney Olympics is also a stand out.
Q. Tell us about your role as site manager at Sydney Festival?
A. I work alongside the Sydney Festival production team throughout the year consulting on the site plan and scheduling the event. Once on site, it’s my job to make sure all the infrastructure arrives at the correct date/time and is delivered and unloaded safely. From there I need to make sure it goes to the correct location in the park and that the infrastructure is built to meet all required safety standards. I’m responsible for all the contractors, the gear and personal they bring onto site, as well as all the Sydney Festival Crew and all the machinery and tools that we use. Once the event is running, I need to keep the site serviced and stocked and I need to make sure that all site functions are safe for our visitors. When it’s over, we do it all in reverse.
Q. As Site Manager what are some of the most challenging moments you have faced at the Village?
A. The city doesn’t allows us to close Hyde Park for construction, so building a festival in the middle of an open park is very difficult, the public safety aspect is very challenging. Moving that many vehicles in and out of the park, as well as loading/un-loading requires a vigilante traffic management team.
Q. What do you look for when you are hiring new people into your team?
A. Thinkers, doers and co-operators. I also look to find people who can perform a particular role better than me, that way I know it will be done properly. Trust is also very important to me.
Q. What advice would you give to a graduate that was looking to break in to Site Management?
A. You need to start at the bottom, as site crew. You need to learn how to do everything first that you would ask others to do later on. Your crew will respect you more. You need to love working outdoors and be able to carry a large amount of responsibility without letting stress effect your ability to make multiple decisions on the fly.
Q. Do you feel that graduates and students with event volunteering and internship experience have a greater advantage when entering the workforce?
A. Yes, any experience will be of benefit. As most events are under time and budgets constraints, hiring people that already have some basic knowledge and general understanding of how an event comes together, will be an asset rather than a hindrance.
Damian is now producing Electric Gardens – Australia’s new boutique house music festival that aims to change the way we celebrate our Australia Day Weekend forever. Check out Electric Gardens here: www.electricgardens.com.au