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Q&A with Ali Baranski

A future of festivals

By Abigail Thorpe

Photo by Rachel Adair

The Michael Franti concert at the Festival in 2010 was Ali Baranski and her now husband Conor’s first date. Now, she’s the new executive director and ready to welcome a new year. Raised on a farm and rural airpark in Oregon, music was a part of her life from an early age, and after she followed Conor to his hometown of Sandpoint in 2013, she started working the Ivano’s booth at Festival Street and in 2018 joined the Festival at Sandpoint Board of Directors. Now, after years of hard work, the 2021 Festival is almost here!

Q. What do you love about Sandpoint and its community?

A. The people – Sandpoint residents have a strong ownership and love for this area and community and are willing to work collectively to continue to keep it special and support one another.

The Land – Our diverse accessibility to nature, outdoor activities, and wildlife year-round is remarkable.

The Culture – For a town our size, the variety of arts programs, nonprofits, food, entertainment, shopping and unique experiences are those of a much larger city.

Q. How has the festival impacted you over the years, and what does it mean to you now to be serving as the director?

A. Personally, the Festival has hands down always been my favorite time of year. With the energy it brings to the town, it always feels like the peak of our beautiful Sandpoint summer season where the community comes together, friends return home, and we show our town and culture off to visitors. After serving on the Board and now in the executive director role, it means so much more. I see the importance of the estimated direct impact on the local economy of more than $3 million (and a trickle-down effect of much more), the importance of our nonprofit’s role in music education in the region that exposes up to 1,000 youths to no-cost music education opportunities year-round, and the generosity of our community—both in volunteering their time or the generous donations that help make the Festival possible each year. This generosity was highlighted even more this past year, as it is the reason the Festival weathered the 2020 storm.

Q. As the new Festival director, what visions or goals do you have for the future of the festival?

A. In short, more financial stability and more music. Music accessibility for those looking to appreciate it, perform it or learn it. Our talented staff and I have a lot of new ideas to continue to evolve and grow the Festival at Sandpoint’s impact on our community and are consistently evaluating how to best fulfill our nonprofit’s mission in the most financially healthy manner. We do not take lightly the generous contributions we receive and the responsibility with which we are entrusted as a nonprofit organization to our community and our supporters.

One example of new offerings: This spring we introduced four small 30-person concerts hosted in our Festival Office, complete with a donation bar, that was a hit and consistently sold out. By popular demand, we plan to bring these concerts back in the fall after our summer season concludes. The Festival at Sandpoint is more than a two-week concert series, and we hope in the expansion of our music performance offerings, education programs, and increased collaboration with other local organizations, our impact is felt even more year-round.

Q. What are you passionate about both in your career and in your life outside of work?

A. When it comes to business, I am passionate about our organization doing our due diligence in every facet of our operations to ensure we are not only conducting business correctly but efficiently, intelligently, responsibly, and always challenging the status quo and thinking outside of the box. When it comes to management, I enjoy creating a positive, fun and kind culture where all employees feel appreciated, heard, seen, and look forward to work every day. But what I love most is mentoring, providing staff the opportunities to take on new responsibilities, gain new skills, and watch their ideas come to fruition.

Having a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, our family stays very busy, and we enjoy doing most things together. I am passionate about my family, raising kind humans, and creating a fun, goofy and loving home. I am also passionate about music, nature, house projects, gardening, traveling, hostess-ing, singing, dancing, making my family laugh, giving back to our community, mentoring, and attempting to live a life full of adventures, love and kindness.

Q. What has been a piece of advice or experience that you’ve carried with you, and that has impacted your life for the better?

A. My mother, a very wise woman, used to tell me growing up, “It is not what happens to you, it is how you react to it.” Naturally as a teenager, I concluded this to be false, as most certainly she was secretly trying to ruin my social life, but as I grew up, I have found that it is advice that has become a part of who I am. After the countless challenges the Festival faced over the last two years, we simply accepted each challenge, found a solution, and took another step forward with kindness and optimism (and some exhaustion). I believe this advice has made me a happier and kinder individual and helped train me to not focus on the negative but find the positive. I will never be Mr. Rogers, but I sure will always seek to try.

I am beyond grateful, humbled and honored to be the executive director of The Festival at Sandpoint during this chapter of its long and rich history. I look forward to continuing to meet individuals and hear their Festival memories, involvement, and see their piece of ownership of such a community-driven organization. The Festival only exists due to this community, and I feel so lucky for my family and me to be a part of it. See you at the Festival!

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