Start with a sun-splashed college town in the summertime for a background. Warm tones will do. Good, now add some detail -- streets filled with people perusing booths of beautiful creations, musicians jamming away, gleeful children splashed by tipping buckets of water.
It's the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, commonly known as Arts Fest, when State College welcomes hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors from near and far for five July days of savoring the finer things in life. By now, 40 years after it began as an antidote to the summer doldrums, Arts Fest has become the main event of the season for many, a time to kick back with friends returning for the occasion. Though some gripe about crowds and prices, and there have been low moments storms, the 1998 early-morning drunken riots -- legions look forward to the transformation of downtown State College and the Penn State campus into a sprawling carnival.
Numerous readers love the festival so much they deemed it one of the 7 Wonders of Centre County. "I have volunteered for the CPFA for many years and, believe me, it is truly a wonder how this spectacular event that showcases Centre County so beautifully for visitors from all over the (United States) comes together," wrote Ann Birnie, a State College native who lives in Washington, D.C. Kathleen Frank, another admirer, wrote: "My favorite, most rewarding, creative, spectacular, inspiring and colorful community event is the Arts Festival." In fact, the celebration's popularity spawned a competitor, the People's Choice Festival of Central Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts, held in Boalsburg at the same time.
Founded 15 years ago as more of a showcase for regional artists than its big sister, the festival now attracts its own huge crowds. While many can't wait for Arts Fest to begin, more than a few eagerly anticipate its end. That's when the Earthtones, a popular local reggae band, traditionally close the festival with a free concert on the Old Main lawn. Couples and families spread out blankets and lawn chairs, dine on picnic suppers and, as children dash around in the twilight, relax in communal peace.