The Wedding Guys are proud to announce the second annual Bruce A. Vassar ICON Award. This award is given out annually to an event industry professional who exemplifies what it means to be an innovator and leader in the local community and showcases a dedication to philanthropic efforts.
Last year, we selected Amy Zaroff and Maari Cedar James to be the inaugural recipients. In its second year, we have chosen Jessica Barrett to receive this year’s award. This outstanding person has dedicated her time and efforts to the wedding and event industry for over a decade while maintaining efforts in her community. Get to know how she got her start in the business, why she loves what she does, and what it means to her to be honored with this award.
Jessica Barrett grew up in a rural community in Southeastern Minnesota, and didn’t always have her sights set on events but knew shortly after entering college that this was the career for her. “I went to college in Decorah, Iowa, at Luther College and started doing events there somewhat by accident, but I was hooked on them right away,” she explains. Following college, she found herself at the Campus Club at the University of Minnesota where she credits several years of learning and growth at the beginning of her career.
After eight years in this position, she became the Director of Operations at Aria in Downtown Minneapolis. Here is where she reminisces some of the most memorable moments of her career so far, “The events we did at Aria in the early days were some of the most exciting, regardless of what we were actually doing simply because I was learning and trying new things, alongside an amazing group of people,” Barrett describes of her time at this bustling venue. “I was also meeting so many people new to me in the industry that were inspiring and exciting. Just to name a few: Nicole Sellers, Amy Zaroff, Ryan Hanson, and absolutely Matthew and Bruce. The vendors we got to work with that were coming up with creative and wild ideas just made work such a pleasure every single day. It was where I first got to work with Carly at Girl Friday, Adam at Phos Events, Justen and Heather with Enticing Entertainment, and dozens of other people who created magic every day.”
The next step in her accomplished career path found her opening up The Machine Shop, an event venue in Northeast Minneapolis. She describes this time in her life as “exhilarating” as she was able to “create more of the framework for doing creative things alongside another amazing team.” She describes seeing events come to fruition from a simple sheet of paper to a living and breathing space as “magical”.
In 2020, Jessica joined forces with Kastina Morrisson of Kastina & Co. and founded a venue consulting and management service called Bigger Picture Solutions. Their goal is to assist new and existing venues or property owners in making their venues beautiful, functional, and seamless to operate. “We are extremely passionate about raising the bar in the industry and educating venues on how to serve clients while also maintaining their sanity,” Barrett says. Their goals include continuing to support the local industry and expanding to national clients as well.
When asked what advice she has for those looking to start their own business she says “I think the only real advice I have to give is to have a strong network of support and people you can ask for advice or assistance along the way,” she suggests. “I was given so much of that when I first started that I make it my goal to help as many as possible get their feet under them now, so if you ever need actual one on one advice or want to talk about it, you can always reach out to me!” She says utilizing her skills and helping others is one of the most rewarding parts of growing her business along with being able to infuse her values into every project they take on.
While the day-to-day logistics can be challenging while managing multiple projects from every angle, this is what drives Jessica, “That challenge is one of the main reasons I wanted to start this business — I feel motivated by them rather than daunted.”
Jessica has many hats beyond owning her own business. She is also involved in the Minnesota Events Coalition, ILEA MSP, and is committed to giving back to the community and speaking out for what she believes in. “I feel strongly about a lot of social issues within our community, country, and world at large. I made a conscious decision years ago that I wouldn’t let fears of how people will view my stance on important issues stand in the way of speaking out, participating in protests, or supporting individuals and causes.” Barrett also says that being involved in your community should be infused not only in your personal life but professionally as well, though it can be a balancing act. “Balancing that work and personal aspect of life hasn’t always been something I’ve excelled at, but I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way that have pushed me to have a more holistic mindset and try to help our clients and friends look at things the same way,” she says. “It’s easy, especially as an entrepreneur, to put your head down and grind, but without looking at things from a higher perspective you can easily miss the ways that life could be simpler or easier.”
One piece of advice she has for managing work, life, and philanthropy is that sometimes you have to harness the power of “no”. “Saying no to things can be the greatest gift you give yourself and your business. If you are doing something out of fear of missing revenue, but it doesn’t really resonate with your brand or your passion, you aren’t going to do it as well as you’d like, which can lead to disappointment on all sides,” Barrett advises. “If you say no to things that don’t fit your framework, you leave yourself open to opportunities that you may not have seen before that do fit for you.” She goes on to say it’s a scary proposition especially since it is a risk not everyone can take, but that it’s okay to walk away from certain projects if they aren’t the right fit.
As for the future of our industry, Barrett hopes to see a shift in the professionalization of what we do. “I think COVID really showed many of us that having a passion for what we do and loving to make dreams come true is awesome, but at the end of the day, it’s a job and we deserve to be taken seriously and respected as professionals,” she states. “You would not hire an architect to work on plans for your dream house and spend hours using the skills they learned in their schooling and career, and then demand your money back because the county wouldn’t allow you to build it.” She emphasizes the importance of those in the wedding industry recognizing themselves as professionals so that others will too.
Jessica crossed paths with The Wedding Guys through ILEA – MSP. Here is where she says she looked up to Matthew and Bruce as pillars in the industry, “I have always greatly appreciated their perspective during the educational programs, not to mention their beautiful eye for design.” She specifically recalls her fond memories of Bruce, “Whenever I think of Bruce, I think of the Minnesota Star Awards Fashion Police Facebook page. It’s not a reference everyone will know of, but there is a group of people who post their outfit plans for the ILEA-MSP/MN Star Awards to get perspectives and advice before committing. Bruce was always an enthusiastic participant in the discussion and it made me laugh every time. He was passionate about the aesthetic, which resonated with me as I love a good costume/theme to an event.”
When Matthew and The Wedding Guys team presented Jessica with the 2022 Bruce A. Vassar ICON Award, she was taken aback “I was so genuinely shocked, I think I may have been speechless for one of the first times in my life. Bruce was certainly a vanguard in our industry, and to be considered anywhere in the proximity of that is humbling. I hope to continue down that path and do the honor of this justice over time, contributing to the industry and community at large in new and creative ways.”