Tradition, buying power move Arts Fest to top of magazine’s event list

Alan Matsumoto works on the sea creature sand sculpture in Sidney Friedman Park during the 2013 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
Alan Matsumoto works on the sea creature sand sculpture in Sidney Friedman Park during the 2013 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. CDT file photo

For the 48th summer, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts will brighten downtown State College through July 13 with art, music, food and more of life’s pleasures.

As always, the heart will be the Sidewalk Sale and Exhibition filling Allen and Fraser streets, Fairmount and Nittany avenues and part of the Penn State campus.

About 300 artists, jury-chosen from more than 1,000 applicants, will display sculpture, paintings, glass art, jewelry, photographs, furniture, clothing, textile art and other creations, transforming rows of booths into colorful magnets for crowds of art-lovers.

But the more than 100,000 visitors annually drawn to the festival do more than browse.

Sunshine Artist Magazine, a trade publication for art and craft shows, currently ranks Arts Fest — as the sprawling festival is popularly known — the top arts festival in the country based on artists’ sales, festival Executive Director Rick Bryant said.

“Because people come here and shop,” Bryant said.

It’s the first time the festival has reached the magazine’s top spot, Bryant said.

Another first this year is the “Seeing America: Centre County in Photographs” exhibition showing during the festival at the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania gallery on Pike Street in Lemont.

The juried show opened June 30 and features photos of local people, places, things and panoramas, as well as created images, taken or made in the past 18 months. A National Endowment for the Arts grant provided funding.

Mostly, though, the festival brings back familiar stalwarts: the giant sand sculpture in Sidney Friedman Park, the Downtown State College Improvement District Italian Street Painting Festival on the 100 block of Hiester Street, BookFestPA at Schlow Centre Region Library, the dumping buckets on Allen Street and live music from about 40 acts on several stages.


In conjunction with the Lemont photo exhibition, itself a spin-off of the “Seeing America: Photographs from the Permanent Collection” show at Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art through August, the festival will offer a related performance.

“First Person: Seeing America,” showing at 2:30 and 8 p.m. at the State Theatre on July 12, is the handiwork of the progressive chamber music group Ensemble Galilei.

As musicians play a mixture of Bach, traditional music from Scotland and Ireland, and new compositions, audiences will see projections of iconic historic photos belonging to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

This year’s performance lineup includes Essence of Joy; groups representing jazz, rock, blues, folk, country, bluegrass and other genres; professional dance; and, new this year, theater.

The State College Area High School Thespians will perform two shows, at 2 and 8 p.m. July 11 in the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, of the musical “Alice in Concert,” a reworking of the Lewis Carroll classic story that the students are taking to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland later in the summer.

Among the many musical acts will be the folk duo Christine Lavin and Don White.

“They’re pretty famous in folk-singer circles, so folks will want to check them out,” Bryant said.

In addition to local favorites Velveeta, Pure Cane Sugar and My Hero Zero, the festival includes The Blind Spots, an all-female rock band from Ithaca, N.Y., and the authentic bluegrass of Virgil Harden & Appalachian Countdown.

Some performances are free, and some require a $10 admission button on sale during the festival that provides entrance to multiple shows.


From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 12, the fifth annual BookFestPA will highlight books and the joy of reading with talks from award-winning local and Pennsylvania authors and book-related activities.

Among the authors scheduled to appear are State College resident Rebecca Hirsch, who has written more than 20 science-oriented books for children, and renowned naturalist Scott Weidensaul, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

New to you

Festival organizers hope more blue will help Arts Fest become more green.

Fest Zero, a new, locally organized initiative, will place blue recycling bins throughout the festival, an attempt to reduce the volumes of trash bound for landfills. Near food vendor stands also will be composting bins for scraps.

“We’re starting on the journey to making the festival 87 percent landfill waste-free by our 50th anniversary in two years,” Bryant said.

The festival also has a new, mobile-friendly website, www.arts-festival.com, and a festival app available for downloading from iTunes and Android outlets.

But despite the handful of additions, visitors can expect much of the same attractions, such as the Sue Crowe Memorial 39th annual Arts Festival races — 5K, 10K and 10-mile — that continue to bring crowds back year after year.

“We try not to make too many changes,” Bryant said, noting that festival-goers prefer continuity. “When we do our visitor survey and ask them why they come, they say tradition.”