Festival prep kicks into high gear

sannarelli@centredaily.comJuly 6, 2014 

Setup for large events like the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and Philipsburg Heritage Days can create nail-biting situations.

Heritage Days Chairman Jim Pollock watched several years ago as a trailer traveled down Front Street facing the wrong direction. No damage was done, but it could have ended in disaster.

“He was a new vendor, and when he first pulled in, he would have been serving toward the sidewalk instead of the street,” Pollock said. “We tried to tell him how to pull out and come back, but he came down wrong and could have taken out several trailers.”

That was a challenge, Pollock said, “so we have to be clear in our direction, especially for new vendors each year when everyone wants to hook up at the same time with over 100 trailers. You have to keep your composure.”

Pollock and other organizers of Heritage Days spend the days leading up to the event mapping out where to put each vendor.

Rick Bryant, executive director of Arts Fest since 2005, understands what is in store for him before the festival kicks off Wednesday morning with Children and Youth Day.

On Sunday, when a 53-foot trailer carrying all of the stages and booths was supposed to arrive, Bryant and Operations Director Carol Baney realized the stage for South Allen Street had not been transported.

“This morning we realized we didn’t have our stage parts delivered, because we accidentally didn’t have it set to be delivered on the right date,” Baney said. “Best Event Rental had some guys do it for us anyway, which is wonderful. They saved my day.”

About 30 of the 400 volunteers began to unload the trailer Sunday on South Allen Street, which is closed to traffic ahead of the big event.

Although, Bryant said, he can operate the forklift, his more pressing responsibility was to make sure everything goes in the right spot.

“I can drive the forklift, but one thing I do is I know where the booths go and where other things are supposed to go, so I’m constantly on the run,” Bryant said. “I’m constantly on the move, and we try to be efficient planners, but we always have that eureka moment and go, ‘Oh, I forgot that.’ ”

While Bryant expects the setup for stages, booths and banners to go well by Tuesday night, he said one of the tougher pieces of preparation is setting up for the artists on Wednesday.

“Wednesday night is a late night for me,” Bryant said. “It’s when the artists move in — all 300 artists all trying to check in and then set up. It’s very busy, because some of them have been here before and some haven’t. So they have a lot of questions. A lot of them are professionals, very professional, and some are outliers who aren’t.”

Weather also can be an issue — the only issue, organizers say, that is completely out of their hands.

“Weather is the biggest factor for our setup because we only have two days to get everything up, and you have to keep working whether it’s a storm coming or a 100-degree day,” said Lara Kauffman, an architect with Landscape II, which has a hand in setting up Arts Fest.

“Safety is our main concern, and we have taken the attitude to check weather conditions constantly to advise people to make sure everything is secure,” Pollock said. “If a weather report comes out that says we’ll have rain, even if it’s a passing shower, we go out and talk to every vendor to let them know.”

There are a few things organizers don’t have to worry about, like volunteers.

“I can’t say enough good things about the paid staff and our core volunteers and all of the other volunteers,” Bryant said. “It’s a very loyal staff of self-starters who you don’t have to take step by step through things.”

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