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Festival memories from more than 30 years ago

With the 50th Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts here, it’s a good time to remember stories, events and people from previous festivals.

Each year, hundreds and hundreds of people volunteer their time and talents to help create our “annual miracle.” Indeed, the best of State College comes forward to create our best event.

I’m sure festival volunteers are especially proud, and perhaps a bit possessive, of the festivals from “their” years. With that in mind, I’ll take a look back at 1978 through 1983 when I happily served on the CPFA Board of Directors and worked with so many dedicated and creative people to produce “our” festivals. I hope my memories are accurate.

Although it was already a fixture of our summer by the late 1970s, the festival as we know it was still not secure. For example, during that time a small but vocal contingent of downtown State College merchants claimed that the festival was “bad for business.” They suggested that storefront Bargain and Sidewalk Sale Days run concurrent with the festival. Mayor Arnold Addison, to his lasting credit, nixed the whole idea and certainly deserves credit for the appearance of the festival we enjoy today.

Another threat to the festival’s survival was trash: Festival-goers produce a lot of it. Mounds of garbage and trash would often pile up in the hot sun. Festival volunteers Dan Jones, Paul Tabolt and Bill Planders came to the rescue. They devised the system of trash volunteers (“the proud, the few...”) still largely in use today.

Under the leadership of Lurene Frantz, our executive director at the time, the festival grew, and grew, and grew.

In the early 1980s, there were far more sidewalk sale artists than today. More than 200 live performances were presented downtown and on campus. There were two stages on the Old Main lawn, so you could listen to music there all day by simply rotating 180 degrees every hour or so. There was a poetry competition and a Poet-Tree where all could hang their poems. The Old Time Fiddlers and Ragtime Piano competitions drew huge crowds. There were films: The indoor Slice of Life documentary film festival and family films in the evening on the HUB lawn. And, true to CPFA’s mission of education and interaction with the public, dozens of artists, from sheep-shearers to weavers and wood-carvers, demonstrated what they did and how they did it on the popular Artists in Action stages.

Community volunteers came forward in droves to help build the new Ambassadors program, staff the information booths, and even serve as hosts and hostesses answering questions for those riding into the festival on buses from the remote Beaver Stadium parking lots.

Despite all this volunteer support, the festival barely held on financially during this time. To raise funds, outdoor galas were held on the Old Main lawn, and the first festival button sales were attempted. The buttons were unsuccessful at the time, but are now are a festival fixture.

And who could forget “Razzle-Dazzle”? Well, I wish I could. We contracted with and paid two young sculptors (who later would become nationally famous) to produce an original kinetic artwork. As the week went on, it became apparent they had no idea what they were going to do. Finally, Saturday evening came, and a very small crowd (thankfully) gathered near Pattee Library to watch “Razzle-Dazzle,” which turned out to be the equivalent of a couple of July Fourth sparklers sputtering on a pinwheel. We felt we were snookered, but this non-event led to one of the CDT’s best headlines ever: “Razzle-Dazzle Fizzles.” I’m pleased to say that the Art in Public Places project organized by several festival veterans to bring sculpture downtown was more successful.

All these memories and more come from just one five-year period more than 30 years ago. I’ll surely forget many wonderful people, but certainly the community should salute Lurene Frantz, Karen Shute, Charlie Brueggebors, Pat Farrell, Dan Jones, Pam Zimmerman, Cathy Zangrilli, Larry Orkus, Helen Manfull, Joanne Nicholson, Chris O’Reilly, Bob Trump, Mike Strailey, Hagan King and so many others who played leadership roles in growing and securing the festival during the early 1980s. Thanks to them and hundreds, perhaps thousands, more the festival continues strong through today.

The festival is the best part of our summer. But it is here only because of the people who have come forward to make it happen, then and now. This week we celebrate 50 years of community and artistic success. The art is fine; the people are even better.

Bob Potter served as CPFA board president during 1981 and1982.

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