Just like it wouldn't be summer without a backyard barbecue, it wouldn't be Central Pennsylvania without our nationally-acclaimed backyard arts festival.
The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts kicks off this week with about 300 artists to see, 50 performances to hear, new things to do and old traditions to remember.
Arts Fest draws about 125,000 people each year said Rick Bryant, who has been the festival's executive director since 2005. This year, performers from as far as Oklahoma and artists from as far as California will travel to the region for the long weekend, allowing attendees to experience art in every medium. Even with the long list of accolades and attractions, Bryant gave two simple reasons to attend this year's festival.
Mirror file photo by Gary M. Barnec
The 2010 Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival brought a large crowd to downtown State College.
"It's rated one of the best in the country, and it's right here in our backyard," he said.
Though some of the same artists and performers can be found at Arts Fest year after year, there are plenty of new things to see and people to meet in 2011. Taking a nod from State College's past, the festival will sponsor a community sing-along which Bryant said occurred frequently downtown from the 1920s to the 1960s.
The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the State College Presbyterian Church, 132 West Beaver Ave., and will be dedicated to the memory of Pat Farrell, a former Arts Festival board president who died in November.
If you go
What: Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts
When: Thursday through July 17, with Children and Youth Day on Wednesday
Where: University Park and Downtown State College
Details: Most events are free, but some indoor performances require the purchase of a button for $10 for adults and $5 for children 6 through 12. Buttons are available at select State College retail stores. For more information, visit www. arts-festival.com/index.php
"It's for people who like to sing but don't get enough of an opportunity," Bryant said, adding that planning for the event included doing a survey of songs people might know, finding a director and creating a songbook. "Now all we need is an audience."
For a less hands-on, but still participatory activity, festivalgoers can attend one of Penn State NU Musical Theatre's productions. Multiple performances of "Bubble Boy the Musical," "The Giver" and "How Can you Run with a Shell on Your Back?" will occur throughout the festival at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, 146 S. Allen St.
Bryant said these stripped-down performances will be kind of like a theater workshop, where the audience can make comments and ask questions.
"You're sort of being part of the process," Bryant said. "It's good experience for the actors and for the people."
To get people moving, this year's Arts Fest will also provide some entertaining ways to exercise, including zumba, yoga and belly dancing.
"You can't turn on the news without seeing a report about how Americans are out of shape and need more exercise," Bryant said.
Along with these new attractions, festivalgoers can still enjoy the cherished traditions like the sand sculpture in the Central Parklet, the Italian street painting festival and the Children's Day activities.
Some of the Arts Fest's most anticipated performances include legendary guitarist Frank Vignola, who has played alongside Les Paul, Madonna and Ringo Starr, and bluegrass rockers DePue Brothers, who were named the "Musical Family of America" in 1989 by presidential decree. Vignola will play at 8 p.m. on July 14 in Schwab Auditorium on Penn State's campus. The DePue Brothers take the stage at 8 p.m. July 16, also in Schwab.
Though the festival draws many nationally-touring acts each year, it also gives some more local acts a chance to play. Drew Jackson, MC for State College reggae fusion band Atlas Soundtrack, said the band is excited to play Arts Fest for the second time. The band will take the stage at 1:30 p.m. July 17 on the Shell stage on Old Main. He added they will have other performances incorporated into the set with hula hoopers and dancers, as well as an art display on the stage.
"We're trying to incorporate all artistic elements, visual, performing and musical," said Jackson, originally of State College and senior at Penn State University Park.
And just like the name suggests, Arts Fest draws some of the best artists from the area and from around the nation.
"It's the real deal," said Bryant. "It doesn't come from a factory in China or wherever."
Some pieces may strike a chord with locals, like the fine art photography of Andrew Dierks with Allen Street booth number A-51. The Altoona resident has been attending Arts Fest for eight years, selling pictures of everything from horses in Kentucky to the Hollidaysburg landscape. He said the local area has influenced his photography in a big way.
"I love the land here," Dierks said.
Arts Fest is one of the better shows to be involved with for artists like himself, Dierks said, adding that the quality and variety of what's offered is well-maintained year after year.
"It's funny that it's right in our own backyard and we think of it as just another arts show," Dierks said. "But I can tell you it's one of the better ones in the Northeast."
And in amongst the dozens of painters, photographers and jewelers, one can also find other pieces they may not see anywhere else. Marlow Gates of Leicester, N.C. will sell his hand-crafted brooms at the festival for the 35th year in booth number M-25 outside of the Sackett building. The brooms are what Gates called "functional art."
"A lot of people's first question is 'You wouldn't use that, would you?'" he said. "Some of them are art for art's sake, but most of them can be used and are better than a store-bought broom."
Broomaking for the Gates family is entering its third generation - it started with his father, who left his job at NASA to take on the craft. Gates' son Corbin, 9, has already picked up the family business and is now starting to make some of the smaller pieces.
Gates said he keeps coming back to Arts Fest year after year for more than just its reputation as one of the best and largest.
"It's a very vibrant atmosphere," he said. "Everybody gets into the spirit of the festival. It's a unique show, there's nothing quite like it."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.