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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Expo has to do some major damage control

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Overall, Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration ran relatively smoothly. There were no major instances of crime or violence, nor were there as many infractions regarding curfews. As a matter of fact, at Recorder press time preliminary reports showed only 28 arrests and 90 curfew violations. These numbers decreased compared to 2007 Summer Celebration findings of 76 arrests and 111 curfew violations.

Despite the decrease of crime and infractions during Summer Celebration, there were some incidents that left the attendees angry, Convention Center staff frustrated, and Expo personnel squabbling to correct the problems. The most notable incident was Saturday night’s Music Heritage Festival concert.

The concert featuring Chrisette Michele, KEM and Keyshia Cole as the headliner was a complete disaster riddled with poor planning, an unprepared promoter and ineffective staff communication on the parts of IBE and the Indiana Convention Center.

The concert was destined to be less than stellar from the start when there was a major mix-up with seats, as ushers instructed people that seating was general admission when tickets were actually sold as assigned seating. This embarrassing mix-up led the concert to start over an hour and a half later than scheduled. The delay in starting the program due to organizational problems agitated the audience tremendously and only worsened their patience during the set-up of each performer. R&B singer Michele did an exemplary job, though many in the audience were unfamiliar with her unique, yet classic style. KEM, by far stole the show and provided the audience with all that they expected. Sadly Cole, who was billed as the headliner gave the weakest performance after appearing on stage 2½ hours after originally scheduled.

I was at Saturday’s concert for 5½ hour…entirely too long for a venue with three performers who were collectively on stage a bit over 2½ hours.

While Expo officials say that much of the delay fell on the shoulders of Cole — there were other things that the organization and the promoter Dwight “Slack” Fortune could have done to safeguard themselves against a potential disastrous concert, yet both entities failed to do so.

What’s unfortunate is the lack of satisfaction attendees felt. Promoter “Slack” did a highly ineffective job of adequately communicating with the audience and seemed to irritate them further with his comments. What Expo officials and Slack have to understand is that when people spend their hard-earned money, they expect quality results. In the event that something unforeseen happens, addressing the audience in an apologetic and respectful manner would have at least acknowledged attendees’ feelings — yet that wasn’t done.

Aside from the disastrous concert Saturday night, another problem that I heard was from longtime Expo volunteers who spoke of the lack or preparation and organization on IBE’s part relative to their booth and other organizational efforts. There were also lots of complaints from sponsors who had to hunt Expo down for their packets. I spoke with one sponsor who spent upwards of $30,000 with IBE and they were “incredibly dissatisfied” with Expo’s lack of professionalism.

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again — Expo has to do some major damage control in regards to its image and customer service, though I will say they’re off to a better start because they called an urgent meeting with media Monday to address some of the weekend’s issues. While this was a good attempt, the organization is going to have to do something for the community that attempts to erase the negative perception. If not, attendance and sponsor support is going to diminish even quicker than it already has.

Since Indiana Black Expo is a non-profit organization that is governed by a 24-member board, the appropriate thing for the board to do would be to address some of the issues that have involved the organization for the past several months. Instead, many of the board members are grassroots individuals who may lack the skills needed to effectively lead an organization the size and magnitude of IBE. While there are some highly skilled individuals who have proven records of decision-making and leadership abilities, they are grossly outnumbered by the others. I can only imagine the frustration these individuals must feel when faced with various obstacles such as highly contested agenda items and voting.

IBE has a new president this year who has had to get up to speed relatively quickly. Tanya Bell is going to need the guidance of the board to help her accomplish goals and implement new strategies. Hopefully by next year’s Summer Celebration all the kinks will be worked out.

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