Good Life

Longtime Arts Fest volunteers describe experience, memories

Jan Phillips has been volunteering with the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts for almost 50 years and has been collecting T-shirts since she started volunteering.
Jan Phillips has been volunteering with the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts for almost 50 years and has been collecting T-shirts since she started volunteering.

Jan “General Jan” Phillips

Q: How long have you been volunteering at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts?

A: I think I’ve been volunteering since it started ... I started volunteering back in the day, we bused people in from the stadium. I used to dress up with high heels and looked fancy as hell and have been here since the Arts Fest started.

Q: What have your volunteer responsibilities been?

A: I started volunteering as buses came in from the stadium and would welcome people. I used to help set up and do that kind of thing, and then helped doing things in the office. They called me “General Jan” because I ran the office and because I would help with a lot of troubleshooting. One of my responsibilities was to answer the phones, but because of the internet, we’ve been getting a lot less calls. When people have a question, they usually look it up online, instead of call us, so phone calls decreased greatly. And I’d sort of also be the person to commandeer things if there was a problem. I guess I’m kind of the jack-of-all-trades in the office.

Q: How did you start being a volunteer?

A: I just love the arts and crafts and thought it was a really great thing. I lived through a number of directors and met many friends, so it was just something to do because of the love of it, and it keeps me going.

Q: What are some of your favorite Arts Fest memories?

A: The people mostly. They’re fun, and there was a time I could get out and do much more, but I have to admit that my arthritis is not on my side, so I’m not as speedy as I used to be. But there is not really just one memory of the festival. The one thing that does come to mind is the banners that hang on the festival route. I remember having to help untangle them. It was a time it was really windy, and we’re like, “Oh, God. The wind really blew last night.” There are a lot of wonderful people who volunteer, but the friendships you make is the most important.

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen with the Arts Fest from when you started?

A: It’s just grown from 25 to 30 vendors to a couple hundred. The rules have become much more strict, and the quality of work is much finer with better quality. I would agree with the public that it’s one of the finest arts and crafts shows in the country. And from going to a little craft office space where we were so cramped to what we have now (on the second floor of 403 S. Allen St.) is much more efficient.

Q: How else would you describe your time volunteering?

A: It’s been a joyride from beginning to end. I enjoy it and look forward to it each year, and plan my summer around it. We’re going on a river cruise down the Mississippi, but I said first, “If it’s not during Arts Fest then I’m in.” I’m married to a saint who puts up with me and the craziness around Arts Fest, but I’ll be doing this as long as I can. I just tell him, “I’ll leave you here, and see you Saturday night.”

Pam Lautsch

Q: How many years have you been volunteering with Arts Fest?

A: I don’t remember exactly, but it’s close to 30 years, at least.

Q: How did you get started volunteering?

A: A friend I was working with was an ambassador on the committee and helped me get my foot in the door. It was something I was always drawn to because of the bigness of it. Everyone recognizes it, and when I travel, I make sure to wear a fest shirt. It’s a big conversation starter. Some people say, “Hey, I’ve been there,” and it’s a connecting event to people from everywhere. It’s so large and has been going on for so long, it has its own personality.

Q: What are your volunteer responsibilities?

A: I’ve been the sidewalk sale coordinator for 25 years, and basically help deal with artists coming on-site. I help take care of them while they’re there and help with the process to ensure good quality and service. We have a group of committee members who work together on things like this on a yearly basis.

Q: What is your favorite part about volunteering with Arts Fest?

A: Just connecting with friends. My friends are people I met though the fest, and I call the artists I see each year my “once-a-year BFFs.” I can keep in touch through social media.

Q: What are your favorite Arts Fest memories?

A: There’s been so many silly events through the years, and most have to deal with storms and dealing with disruption to the fest. You remember those times and say you survived it. Like all the tents falling down and slogging through it. But the best thing is every year at 3 p.m. we start making a route and driving up to the sidewalk and planning the 10-by-10 squares for the (vendors). It’s the largest subdivision of State College, even though it’s a temporary one. And you can go back to old plans and see the changes in the setup, like, “oh, there was a tree here.” Now that’s made into an extra space.

Paul and Vinnie Scanlon

Q: How many years have you been volunteering?

Vinnie Scanlon: We can’t determine that, but since the 1970s. I remember coming back from my honeymoon in ’67 and the fest was going on. It’s something that became a part of everyone’s life. I don’t remember the year exactly I started, but have done various things.

Paul Scanlon: Not as long as Vinnie. Over the years, work kept me from volunteering as long, but I started in the ’80s.

Q: How did you start volunteering?

VS: It’s just common in our family to participate and contribute in the community, so it’s just wanting to be a part of town. We do many things like this as a family. There is a desire to support a lovely, happy, town and gown events like this. It’s just natural for use to help. It’s an overused statement, but it’s a way to give back to the community.

Q: What were your volunteer responsibilities?

PS: I was first able to work in the information booth. It’s what my job allowed me to do at the time. And then went into the ambassador program. I had the chance to work in the embassy as one of the faces of the program, and ended up as chairman of that, and then had a chance to be the sidewalk (sale) coordinator. I did that for about 10 years until my job wouldn’t let do as much.

Once I had some freedom, I joined Vinnie taking jurors around the Arts Fest. Basically a call for entry goes out and the artists apply. They send in about five piece of their work that represents them, and jurors convene and sit in a room and pick 250 to be part of the fest, of about 900 to 1,000 applicants. So when I came back, I did a lot of that, worked with the jury and the rules committee working on rules. I still do that now. (This year, Scanlon was also on the 50th anniversary poster trail committee).

Q: What’s your favorite part of volunteering at Arts Fest?

VS: It’s just a happy time and working with really supportive people who are invested in contributing to the good in the community and enjoying something that gels the arts and the community. There are performing arts and visual arts, and it’s a quality event. So just being a part of something so big is a really great opportunity. It’s a really nice activity that serves as the fabric of our life.

Q: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen with the festival?

VS: Some of the biggest changes is the growth and quality and always aiming to make it better. We strive for diversity to bring in different things to keep ahead of the trend. We added street painting and other events, and I just think it’s grown and maintained at a high level of producing really good art. It’s also what connects the campus and community as one.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo