Hearne: Will the Real ‘WaterFire’ Please Stand Up (And Be Counted)?

the_protest_crowd_numbers_gameThink of it, as a variation on the if you build, they will come concept…

If you hype, they will believe…maybe even come. So it is with the brief history of WaterFire in Kansas City, one of the duller, more overhyped events to hit the Cowtown.

First a few kind words about organizer Karen Holland.

Holland, who brought the Cow Parade to KC in the early 2000s – and for her trouble was pilloried by Star art critic Alice Thorson and pretty much every legit artist in town – is a well-intentioned woman. She truly believes that mixing burning pylons on an open sewer like Brush Creek with New Age music wafting through the air is a winner. Another Plaza Lighting Ceremony or Plaza Art Fair in the making. Hey, for Holland and a finite number of New Agers, it probably is.

And maybe this baby will grow and succeed despite its pretentiousness.

After all, we’re in year seven. More likely though, it’s just an excuse for some Kansas Citians to wander the Plaza on a festive fall night. In spite of the burning pylons you can’t really even see very well unless you plop down on the banks of Brush Creek because they’re several yards below the street level in the crick.

Know this however, Holland is no mathematician.

From the get go she’s put out inflated attendance numbers for the event in an attempt to magnify its luster to locals. After the first year the Star published a ridiculous Letter to the Editor from Holland claiming an unsubstantiated attendance figure that made it look like WaterFire had as many attendees as the Plaza’s hallowed lighting ceremony.

Trust me, it didn’t.

I can all but guarantee you after working with two separate teams of statisticians from UMKC and dedicated Waldo businessman Gary Evert to count the Plaza lighting crowd, that Holland’s number was not scientifically obtained.

Inflatable-Plastic-Fake-Crowd-2Thin air, anyone?

Last year the Star allowed Holland to suggest that WaterFire expected around 30,000 to 35,000 people to attend. While that was an obvious stretch, it was only  an estimate.

Today cub reporter Dugan Arnett at the newspaper stepped in it by “reporting” that more than 30,000 people attended WaterFire 2012. Arnett wasn’t around several years back when then editor Mark Zieman issued a dictum that no unsubstantiated crowd counts were to be reported. Unless they were small enough for the reporter to quantify / verify or actually count, they were to be attributed to a respected source or not reported at all.

Come on Dugan, check it out Saturday and see if you think it’s really as big as the Thanksgiving lighting blowout.

See you there?

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8 Responses to Hearne: Will the Real ‘WaterFire’ Please Stand Up (And Be Counted)?

  1. paulwilsonkc says:

    Here’s my two cents on this story. Art, visual or performance, certainly means different things to different people. Same is true with music, musicians and genres.
    All I know for sure about the topic is this; Karen and Jack are both extremely sincere about what they do in their support of said arts.

    Jack, Karen’s husband, is the Managing Director at Oppenheimer & Co. He didn’t know me from Adam but came out of nowhere to offer me more backing and assistance in a business acquisition than I could have gotten if I went looking for it! Only because he knew my reputation and believed in what I was doing.

    He and one other Plaza investment exec, which did the same thing, go down in my book with Gold Stars, regardless of the goofiness of the event they may or may not be involved in.

  2. the dude says:

    All I wanna know is can I get my magical crystals recharged at this event?

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Dude, you can email me at paulwilsonkc@gmail for information on life, investments, business development or magic crystal recharging. Im here to help the ones who want help.
      Please don’t thank me; its what I do.

  3. balbonis moleskine says:

    I used to date a girl who was with Vesuvius, one of those local fire spinning yahoo groups. She had literally the rankest cooter ever encountered by this man. Not hippie chick wild, fn rank. To this day the smell of their soaked flaming rags makes me wretch because I nightmare of foul kitty.

    Have fun at the flush creek.

  4. tiad says:

    Jr. wrote:

    “I can all but guarantee you after….”

    Priceless, simply priceless.

    • admin says:

      Actually, there is a price…just for you TIAD: Free!

      Here’s how I can (almost) guarantee you. I’ve counted those Plaza Lights crowds several times. And I’ve gauged the WaterFire crowds several times.

      Starting with the first two, after which Holland wrote the Star and claimed her ridiculous number. I know what it takes to do a proper crowd estimate, and specifically on the Plaza.

      So snark away, you seem to be easily entertained.

  5. PB says:

    Never been to this event and have no idea how many people attend, but judging from the pictures I’ve seen over the years, looks to me like quite a few folks show up. Who cares how accurate the crowd estimates are as long as there IS a crowd? A heck of a lot a people work their asses off on bringing this event to KC and while Water Fire may not be my thing, I respect their efforts and wish them the best. Kansas City’s inferiority complex never fails to perplex me and in manifests itself when events and projects that are designed for the betterment of our area are seemingly always trashed by it’s own citizens. Weird.

    • admin says:

      That’s a legitimate point, PB. So I won’t dispute it.

      However, in the journalism racket – if I may call it that – there is this thing about honesty that tends to be kinda important.

      So when the folks at KCPL and the Plaza gradually built the attendance figures for the Lighting Ceremony up to around 300,000 people – four sold out Chiefs games – it seemed obvious that somebody was bullshitting the masses to try and ascribe an air of importance that transcended simply being “for the betterment of our area” as you put it.

      Guess what? We did the work and it was a little more than 10 percent of what they claimed. Should someone go to jail over this? Of course not.

      But remember that line about honesty being the best policy. After my story the Plaza and KCPL backed down, admitted they’d never counted or truly estimated the crowd, the cops said they had no idea. And they’ve never advertised those phony numbers since.

      I have a confession; I think the general merits of this deal are totally queer by my personal measure – in other words, it’s not for me – but that has nothing to do with my taking umbrage at a promoter lying to the media and the general public in an effort to convince people that the event is more (far more) than it really is.

      Personally I don’t get what having an inferiority complex does or doesn’t have to do with any of this. I don’t have one, do you?

      And if I did, I’d probably line up right behind Karen Holland and try and convince the world that this event is HUGE.

      Still think it’s weird?

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