I got on Curt Mason's regionally famous events list early.
His notices of library and historical society talks and not to-be-missed performances at the many art, cultural and theater venues around Jefferson County are ubiquitous, but not annoying, and always interesting. They guided my singular social life and kept me in the loop on so many significant activities meetings, classes, performances that their arrival in my email box was as much education as they were gentle reminders and they were always welcome.
Mason recoils at being called an events guru. He's just a guy, he says, who's found a calling. He admits he arrived as this weighty responsibility to track and trumpet the county's (and now region's) goings-on by default. Three years ago, no one else was doing it. Three years later Mason continues. To paraphrase an old classic TV cartoon line-- he saw clearly what needed to be done and he done it.
The start of it all was Mason's service on boards of two organizations the South Jefferson Public Library and the Jefferson County Historical Society two non-profits that could get along just fine working within their membership and patronage with small news flyers announcing things going on. But Mason identified a broader opportunity.
As outreach coordinator for both organizations and now for Historic Landmarks he made sure that press releases went out, but discovered that just writing press releases and sending them to media was limiting, not to mention sometimes frustrating with limited, control over the message and its distribution. So, he decided to expand his reach by beginning to build "the list", which was a bit ahead of the social media curve, but not by much.
The list is more than 2,000 names of those connected to the three non-profits for which he volunteers, plus connections to those connections. The wonder and marvel of email is that those on the list can forward information to friends and colleagues, which is where the spidering effect begins. People tell people who tell people essentially legitimized gossip -- but good gossip.
"I started pumping out announcements," Mason said. "still making sure the releases went out, but sending to those on these lists, pushing the information out and giving recipients the opportunity to accept and open it or simply delete."
His idea was to get the word out and educate the public it's really that simple.
The growth of the list, the reach and the content isn't quite as simple, but it's the natural outgrowth of growth lists grow, events grow and by broadening content beyond history and libraries, the diversity of subject matter also grows.
"Filling that gap, I realized there was art, and other cultural events that needed a wider audience, so I expanded into that," Mason said. "So I started sending out Shepherdstown Opera House notices, Full Circle needed a shot in the arm and if CATF sent me a release I'd send that out too.
"Now I'm being approached regionally by other county organizations that see the value of a list that includes people and organizations from Berkeley and Washington counties. And it makes sense we're all so close, so responsive and mobile. People are quite simply looking for things to do and for ways to stay informed."
Mason points out that, philosophically, this is quite a departure from simply posting an event to a website or putting it in the paper. As he puts it,"are we going to push out this stuff or are we going to trust that people will just come to it.?
"There's a lot more to be gained by pushing it out than by expecting people to find it," Mason said. "People are lazy or too busy to bother. This arrives in their email box and they have it and can decide what to do with it from there some say it's too much, but others say thanks, I never would have known about this if not for you."
He has clearly engaged an audience that is interested on both ends submitting and attending events, and he is providing a public service, building buzz and being proactive in spreading the word.
As social media continues to emerge and find its real footing, the power of what he is doing is even more obvious. Exhibits, opening nights, fundraisers they all need a shot in the arm and since traditional media is so fragmented Mason's way is comparatively much more focused and arguably effective.
But how long can he continue to do this? It's a passion, but it's time-consuming, and as a friend once said, it looks like Mason is flunking retirement. He's talking about going south to really retire and is looking for an heir to the events guru fortune.
He's got his eye on the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) -- a logical place to be an events clearinghouse and distributor of information for the county and in collaboration with other CVBs, perhaps even for the region.
We're all looking to draw visitors from major markets, in addition to keep local constituencies engaged and build an identity for the Eastern Panhandle as enlightened , eclectic and attractive for those who seek lifetime learning and rewarding experiences. Collecting and distributing events consistent with that identity is a good match.
So it makes sense as long as the CVB and its collegial CVB partners take up the mantle from Mason and recognize that what he's built has equity and respect, both of which have to be closely protected. And growth is a must no one wants to go backwards and dropping the ball on this is not an option.
Curt Mason has built a recognizably valuable service to our county and region and we owe him a debt of gratitude and a promise that what he's started will continue.