As the usual summer events return to full strength, expect new wrinkles and pent-up demand
The recent Memorial Day festivities in Boalsburg officially kicked off summer after two years of pandemic restrictions. Other events are set to roll out, including fireworks, festivals, live music and community park and recreation activities.
Central Pennsylvania 4th Fest, with one of the biggest fireworks displays in the country, will be back in full force this year. Kurt Weibel, president of the 4th Fest board, says the daylong event will be a fresh, revamped celebration.
“Our world has changed,” he says. “It has changed for everyone.” The 4th Fest is part of that reality. With board members stepping down after 30 years of service and difficulty finding staff and volunteers, it is a good time for the event to have a new model, Weibel says. He likens the new approach for the event to looking in the rearview mirror when you’re driving a car. You have to know what’s happening behind you but you need to learn from it and look ahead.
For the upcoming July 4 celebration, 4th Fest will once again partner with the State College Spikes at Medlar Field, but this year will be different. “The Spikes stadium will be our VIP section, with assigned seating,” he says.
The day will be nonstop fun, with multiple activities, including live entertainment, activities for children and families, food and drinks, and lots of excitement. “We’ll even have a man being shot out of a cannon,” Weibel says. Everything during the day leads to the main event after sunset — the fireworks show.
Last year’s show, which was held after a Spikes game, sold out. That may happen again this year, especially with the much-anticipated new model for the event. Tickets will be kept at a reasonable price, Weibel says, inviting the community to experience the amazing new 4th Fest. “It’ll be a heck of a day!”
A few weeks after July 4, arts festivals return to in-person mode. The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts was primarily online last year, with a few in-person events, under COVID restrictions. This year, as the 56th festival’s slogan says: “We are … BACK!”
Rick Bryant, executive director for the festival since 2005, says the slogan loud and clear as he talks about the return of the in-person festival, July 13-17. The people who run the festival from behind the scenes are back in person, Bryant says. “We are all delighted.”
Although the pandemic period was profoundly difficult for everyone, major donors stepped up and the festival organization could continue its work, he says.
“Through all this, we learned just how much the public values what we do,” Bryant says. With a chuckle, he compared the community’s support for the arts in 2020 and 2021 with actress Sally Field’s well-known line at the 1985 Academy Awards: “You LIKE me!”
The number of artists applying to participate in the festival this year is not as high as 2019, but the number of festivals across the country has gone down and artists are being selective. “Artists are applying only to the shows where they really want to go,” Bryant says.
New festival features include a food court near Memorial Field off West Nittany Avenue and Fraser Street and a brand-new option for refreshments in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on South Fraser Street. In early May, State College Borough Council issued a temporary permit for the event, a short-term exception to the open-container law.
“In the past few years, Centre County has become the home to not only vintners, but also brewers, distillers, and cider makers,” Bryant says. “They’re popular for a reason — their products taste good.”
“We’re happy to partner with the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail to bring them before our audience,” he says. “If adult beverages aren’t your thing, you can enjoy the festival in the way you’ve always done it, but if you would like to taste some local product … we’ve got you covered.”
For more information, see arts-festival.com.
Jewelry artist Elizabeth Hay can easily conjure up the feeling she had the first time she showed her collection at the arts festival, in 2008.
“I can still vividly remember the anticipation and then glee at finding out I had been selected to exhibit,” she says. “It is the best attended and most engaged audience I have experienced at any show.”
Hay creates jewelry inspired by nature, particularly plants from her garden. “I decided to combine my love of flowers, leaves and botanical textures with jewelry making, and started creating molds from those elements in my garden, then recreating them in silver.”
For this year’s festival, she is creating a new line of tiny hand-sculpted animals that will debut at the festival. She disappears into her studio for a moment and returns with a miniature silver rabbit, amazing in its detailed design.
In a shop called Art a la Carte, which celebrated its second anniversary in May, the work of about 30 local artists is displayed for sale, and classes are taught by the artists. The shop, in the historic Brockerhoff House in Bellefonte, is a collective established by Hay in 2019.
“Being open for only 10 months before COVID has been a challenge,” she says. The shop had grown since the May 2019 opening and classes were full. A savvy business owner, Hay used resilience, social media and online sales to keep operating. “‘Pivot’ became the shop directive and we started offering concierge shopping, including custom videos and photos based on a customer’s request for a gift.”
In-person contact is welcome for both the shop and the arts festival, Hay says. Festival visitors can create a lasting memory by talking with, learning from, and forging a connection with artists when they buy art, which doesn’t happen online, she says. Hay’s dog, Cooper, supervising from Hay’s studio at the back of shop, wags in approval.
Longtime local photographer Art Heim, owner of Heimworks Art on West Beaver Avenue, first showed his work at the festival in 2015. He echoes Hay’s belief in the value of sharing art in person.
“The arts festival team did an absolutely heroic job to try to make something out of the horror — the pandemic,” he says. “But people are at the root of art. It was very hard to not interact with people.”
He recently exhibited at a Harrisburg festival and described the enthusiasm of the crowd “amazing.” At a festival in Lewisburg, the currently popular phrase “pent-up demand” was palpable, he says. “It’ll be like that here, that enthusiasm, I’m sure.”
Heim came to State College from the Philadelphia area nearly 50 years ago and stayed. “I fell in love with central Pennsylvania and the State College area from the beginning. I enjoy being an ambassador for our area, and arts festival is our window on the world.”
The connection between town and campus during the festival creates synergy, he says. “The synergy manifests as a celebration of community.” The festival gives an unintimidating way to share art in an outdoor environment and encourages the community to interact with the artists, he says.
Downtime on the street gives artists a booth’s-eye view of their customer base, Heim says. Artists imagine people are headed for their booth but at the last moment, they rush past, maybe in search of a hotdog, he jokes. When people stop to ask about specific photographs, he is thrilled that they’re interested because it gives him a chance to tell the stories of the photos.
For more information, see heimworksart.com.
The People’s Choice Festival is in-person this year, after showcasing artists online in 2021. Another major change this year for the festival is not connected with the pandemic. It’s a relocation to Grange Park, off Route 45, Centre Hall, less than 10 miles from its traditional venue at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg.
“It’s a perfect time to move,” says Cindy Rockey, co-director of the festival. The rental contract for the museum grounds was up for renewal. Rent would increase and the contract was for only one year.
A benefit for the festival’s operation will be a savings of about $10,000 a year for traffic control, Rockey says. “For the first time since the festival started, we actually have a way to make money to replenish some of our operating costs.”
However, she says that the event means more than financial or logistical issues. “It’s the opportunity to rekindle old friendships, enjoy art, music, and a fun family-oriented event.”
A total of 220 vendors have signed on this year, 162 artists (150 returning from last year), 12 specialty food vendors, 30 food concessions and nine wineries, she says.
Rockey, who began as a textile artist at the festival, became a volunteer and in 2006 became a co-director with John Madison, praised the volunteers, asserting that the festival could not take place without them.
The Bellefonte Arts & Crafts Fair is returning Aug. 5-6 to downtown Bellefonte for its 39th year. Although it was held in Talleyrand Park in recent years, this year it will take place along Allegheny and West High streets.
“We are super-excited to be back,” says Denise Snook, co-director of the fair with her husband, Steve, since 2017. “We are still in the planning stages but every year we look at ways to improve the fair so that there is something for everyone to enjoy,” she says. “We have some great entertainment scheduled, have some very talented artists both local and out of state, youth artists, and children’s activities lined up.”
The entire fair is run by volunteers. Fair ambassadors, who see to the needs of the artists, and the information-booth volunteers are particularly appreciated by the artists and fair-goers, Snook says.
Attendance always depends on the weather, but typically the fair draws thousands of people. “We think this year will be no exception,” Snook says. “We think people are ready to get out and get back to the events they have grown to love.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or for more information, see bellefontefair.org.
After a two-year hiatus, the Philipsburg Heritage Days celebration returns July 13-16 to celebrate its 225th anniversary with the theme “Rich History, Prosperous Future.” The main location for many events is North Front Street near the Philipsburg Towers.
Live music of all types, including a drum and bugle corps show, will be performed throughout Heritage Days. The Grand Parade is at 2 p.m. on July 16, with pre-parade judging of fire equipment at Philipsburg High School at 10 a.m. Saturday night’s last hurrah will be fireworks with lots of entertainment as the crowd waits for dark.
For more information, see philipsburgheritagedays.com
Kids on Wheels, a popular parade in State College on July 4, is coming back this year through Centre Region Parks and Recreation (CRPR). “We are really excited about this,” says Pamela J. Salokangas, director of Parks and Recreation for CRPR.
Canceled in 2020, it was held last year but without the usual watermelon cool-down snack or games. “We typically have 200 to 300 people participating, but last year we had 25 people,” Salokangas says.
Millbrook Marsh celebrated Earth Day April 22, the start of CRPR special events for 2022. The event had a name change from Earth Day Birthday to Earth Fest, revised hours and more vendor booths than it’s ever had.
“In the past, depending on the weather, a good response has been between 400 and 600 people,” Salokangas says. “This year, we had 900 attendees.”
All summer programs at Millbrook Marsh will be held outdoors, with no COVID restrictions. Children’s camps also will not have COVID restrictions, but children who choose to wear masks will be allowed breaks to take it off in a safe place.
Registration for camps opened in February and the current count on waiting lists is from 30 to 40 people, Salokangas says. High demand and waiting for staff seasonal-job applications contribute to the overflow.
(Salokangas is featured in Spotlight on page 34.)
For more information, see crpr.org.
A common thread throughout the reboot of summer events is the need to boost the local economy. Indications show that travel in the Centre Region, especially sports and leisure travel, is returning to pre-pandemic levels, says Fritz Smith, president and CEO of the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau (HVAB).
“The area was actually on track for record visitation prior to COVID,” he says. “With all of our major events returning, new ones added to the mix, and a robust sports event and tournament schedule, we do expect a very active summer.”
Smith says indicators of the growing uptick include better than pre-pandemic lodging revenues in April 2022, with 400 fewer available hotel rooms; almost double the number in 2019 of direct referrals from the HVAB’s website for lodging; and higher than usual overall traffic to happyvalley.com.
Rick Bryant emphasizes that both local and out-of-town visitors to summer events should remember that the local economy and arts community need strong support this year, for the arts festival. “We want people to come and buy art, buy food, buy wristbands or get a ticket and go to a show, and help make the economy green,” he says. “Bring your wallet and get downtown.” The Arts Fest projects that it will draw 125,000 visitors.
Other Summer Activities
Penn State summer camps for children and youth will be held in person this year. Search the Penn State website for camps and locations you’re interested in at psu.edu.
Rhoneymeade Fest 2022, June 3-5, a three-day experimental music and arts festival for all ages, will be held at Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden, 177 Rimmey Road, Centre Hall, with some performances in downtown State College. See rhoneymeade.org/events/rhoneymeade-fest-2022.
Penn’s Woods Music Festival, June 11-25, settles back into a regular schedule Music in the Gardens has a full festival orchestra playing at the Overlook Paviliion of The Arboretum at Penn State. There will be two premieres, Beethoven, and a night of jazz has been added. Come enjoy music under the stars. For complete details visit pwmf.psu.edu.
The 2022 Historic Bellefonte Cruise will be held on Saturday, June 18, and Sunday, June 19, in downtown Bellefonte. See bellefontecruise.org or the Bellefonte Cruise Facebook page.
Juneteenth Celebration activities will be held Saturday, June 19, with the main event from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on South Fraser Street in State College, coordinated by the NAACP State College chapter. See facebook.com/StateCollegeNAACP.
The Penn State Powwow, not held for the past two years, is back, June 25-26, at Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College. See bellisario.psu.edu/powwow or The Penn State Powwow Facebook page.
Bookfest PA 2022, is back, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., July 16, in Schlow Centre Region Library parking lot. See schlowlibrary.org.
Ag Progress Days, Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exhibition, Aug. 9-11 at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, 2710 W. Pine Grove Road, Pennsylvania Furnace. The event and parking are free. See agsci.psu.edu/apd.
Centre County Grange Fair, in its 148th year, was held in-person last year and will be held this year Aug. 19-27 at Grange Park, Homan Avenue, Centre Hall. See grangefair.com or the fair’s Facebook page.