Toy weapons will be banned at the 2015 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and not everyone is happy about it.
Arts Fest Executive Director Rick Bryant said the board of directors voted unanimously in November to ban children from making and selling toy weapons and historic facsimiles like rubber-band guns, pop guns, swords, Nerf weapons, light sabers and any items that launch projectiles.
The first day of the annual arts festival goes to the kids, with about 300 8- to 18-year-olds making arts and crafts to sell at the Children and Youth Day sidewalk sale.
In the past, children have made and sold such things as bows and arrows and shields, but those items, too, will be banned this year.
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“We live in especially violent times,” Bryant said in a news release. “Banning the sale of weapons at the Children and Youth Sidewalk Sale might not be a giant step in making our society less violent, but it’s a step that we can take.”
Bryant said his statement was not meant to be taken as his stance on toy weapons as a whole, just at Arts Fest.
“I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not making that kind of statement,” he said. “I know that if I took my nephew to Arts Fest and if he were whacked by another kid wielding a sword around, I’d be a little upset. So, I’m not talking about this on a macro level, because I don’t care so much if a child plays with a toy gun or something else at his own home. I just don’t want them to do it here.”
Bryant said he received complaints about children using toy weapons at the event, but that there have not been injuries. The rule change, he said, was implemented to prevent injuries from ever happening.
“We thought about it for some time, and we decided to take action when we considered how crowded it gets during Arts Fest,” Bryant said. “It’s crowded enough that there are safety concerns, but there was not a precipitating event to this. We look at the rules each year and see what’s good and bad and what we could change and tweak.”
He said organizers have asked that children not use toy weapons at the event.
“Kids want to demonstrate them, and boys will be boys,” Bryant said. “You can tell a kid not to do something, but they’ll be eager to do it. It’s just how kids are.”
Mike Reinert, of Patton Township, said his son Nate’s ping-pong-ball catapults have drawn large crowds of children in recent years. They were disappointed to learn Nate could not make them again.
“It’s a tough call, and it’s a tough subject,” Mike Reinert said. “I understand they want to be careful and not encourage weapons and violence, so I can try to appreciate their position. On the other hand, we have a military that uses them and is violent just so we can have this conversation.”
Reinert, who served in the Navy, wondered if the toy-weapon ban compounds what he thinks is an existing issue.
“I don’t know that this action is really solving any kind of problem, because a lot of these boys making these things may grow up to be in the military,” he said. “Just as what’s happening in schools, you’re telling these young people it’s not OK to fight, battle and compete. Where are we leaving our boys? As a guy, there are just natural instincts we’ve had for thousands of years, and now we’re supposed to say it’s not OK? I know they’re doing the best they can, but it’s a Catch-22.”
Boys won’t be the only ones affected by the rule change.
Alex Straka, of State College, will not be able to make bows and arrows to sell at the festival.
“I was heartbroken to learn I will be unable to make and sell my bows this year at the 2015 Arts Fest Children and Youth Day,” Straka said in an email. “I look forward to making the bows and selling them at this event. It has taught me to apply what I’ve learned in science and it has also helped me to continue to improve my marketing skills that I’ve learned from selling cookies through the Girl Scouts.”
She said the ban punishes children.
“I don’t think kids should be punished by banning toy weapons from this event,” Straka said. “I feel with proper instruction and supervision that kids can (have) a safe and fun time with creative toys such as my bows.”
A petition was created Tuesday to protest the board’s decision, and Bryant acknowledged that some people might not like the rule change.
“Perhaps some people would feel different if I asked them to have 1,000 kids over at their house,” he said. “We’re doing an outdoor event, and it behooves us to exercise some caution to do that.”
Applications are available at arts-festival.com and the deadline to register for the July 8 Children and Youth Day sidewalk sale is June 19. The 2015 festival will be July 9-12.
“We want everyone to come and have a good time, and we also wanted to give people an earlier notice that we’ve made a tweak in the rules to give children a chance to think of something else to make so as many people as possible can have a positive experience,” Bryant said.