When a group of local artists decided to start their own arts festival in 1992, Cindy Rockey never dreamed what it could become.
Now 20 years later, Rockey and her team of organizers and volunteers are preparing for the biggest version yet of the People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts.
“This is a really big deal for us,” Rockey said of the festival’s 20th anniversary, scheduled through July 15 outside the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg.
“When it first started, we were pretty sure it was going to take off,” she said. “Well, it took off like wildfire and it has been growing ever since.”
For the anniversary, organizers have added new artisan booths, beefed up entertainment and included even more events for children.
“We tried to make it a pretty special year,” said Diana Stapleford, marketing and sponsorship director for the festival.
That’s the way George and Nancy Marion would have wanted it, Stapleford said.
George Marion, a local artist, and his wife were instrumental in creating the festival 20 years ago. They started with 60 local vendors. The event has since grown to include 185 artisans with Pennsylvania connections.
Billing itself a more affordable, more state-rooted version of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, which takes place the same weekend, the People’s Choice fest has grown ever since.
“George and Nancy wanted a place for Pennsylvania artisans,” Stapleford said. “It just grew and grew and grew throughout the years.”
Rockey, who has been with the festival for 19 years, first as an artist, and now as its co-director, has watched the transformation.
“We knew we had artisans who wanted to participate,” she said. “We didn’t realize the community was going to support us so much.”
Rockey estimated that about 100,000 visitors stop by during the four-day festival.
“It’s grown from a little group of artisans to more than 180,” Stapleford said. “There is truly something for everyone, from a small child to an adult, from someone on a $5 budget to a $5,000 budget.”
This year, for the 20th anniversary, organizers added space for 15 new artisans, bringing the total to a record 185.
Rockey said the festival will feature even more of its trademark free, continuous music and children’s entertainment.
Stapleford said her favorite is the specialty food tent, which features local foods like jams, syrups, salsas and wines.
The festival is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 13-14 and from noon to 5 p.m. June 15.
That’s when Rockey and the many volunteers whose work makes the festival possible can finally relax.
“There nothing nicer than to have people stop throughout the festival and say, ‘I’m so glad I stopped. This is my first time.’ ”
After that, it’s a few weeks off and then back to work for the army of volunteers, committee members and directors.
“It’s all-year preparation,” Rockey said. “We usually try to take the month of August off, but then we start right back up. It’s hard work, but extremely rewarding.”
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter
July 13North Stage
• 11:30 a.m.: Heritage Brass
• 1 p.m.: Summer Rock Camp with Matt Price and Jeff Gible
• 2:30 p.m.: Nittany Knights Barbershop Chorus
• 4 p.m.: Tussey Mountain Moonshiners
• 6 p.m.: Your Dad’s Friends
• 11:30 a.m.: Black Coffee
• 1 p.m.: J.R. & Sharon Band
• 2:30 p.m.: Puffer Fish
• 5 p.m.: David Zentner and Country Tradition (set 1)
• 7 p.m.: David Zentner and Country Tradition (set 2)
July 14North Stage
• noon: Voxology
• 1:30 p.m.: Black Cat Belly Dance and Friends
• 3 p.m.: Dan & Galla Musical Show
• 4:30 p.m.: Pure Cane Sugar
• 6:30 p.m.: Centre County Outstanding Young Woman Scholarship Program
• 11 a.m.: Brio Dance Company
• 12:30 p.m.: Andy Angel Quartet
• 2 p.m.: Deacons of Dixieland
• 3:30 p.m.: Singer-Songwritter “KJ”
• 6 p.m.: Bill Haleys’ Comets and The Comet’s Rock and Roll Show (set 1)
• 7:15 p.m.: Bill Haleys’ Comets and The Comet’s Rock and Roll Show (set 2)
July 15North Stage
• 10:30 a.m.: St. John’s United Church of Christ & Zion Lutheran Church
• noon: Tree Celtic music
• 2:30 p.m.: Keystone Society of Swing
• 11:30 a.m.: Altoona Chorus of Sweet Adelines
• 1:30 p.m.: Elvis Impersonator Brad Crum (set 1)
• 3:30 p.m.: Elvis Impersonator Brad Crum (set 2)