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Arts Fest Inspires Celebration, Passion in Artists and Attendees

by on July 13, 2014 6:00 AM

Sabrina Syeda and Taslima Zaman, both chemical engineering graduate students at Penn State from Bangladesh, sat in the Saturday afternoon sun on Heister Street sketching a blooming sun in chalk on the street.

Their drawing was a single square in a tapestry of street drawings, all drawn by different visitors to the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Vivid scenes in neon pastels spread across the street as part of the festival’s traditional Italian street painting exhibit.

Syeda and Zaman might not have had the same artistic talent as the local artists who painted the larger scenes, but they had the same passions for their subject matter. The two women were drawing an alpona – a traditional symbol of celebration in Bangladesh.

They say their home country has many street festivals throughout the year, for which many people paint the beautiful, geometric intricacies of alponas.  By tracing this symbol onto the Heister blacktop, Zaman says they “took today as an opportunity to remember home.”

Syeda says the festival not only recalls her home, but also gives her a welcome break from a strict schedule of labs and studying.

“We’re trying to be artists for a day,” she says.

Feet away, local mural artist Michael Pilato encouraged a crowd of visitors gathered around him to follow their passions to affect change around them. Dressed in a tee-shirt and paint-stained jeans, the internationally-renowned artist spoke to the crowd in front of the iconic “Inspiration” mural.

Stretching along Heister, the mural shows a wide range of figures from the Penn State and State College community that have inspired Pilato in different ways.

“This wall is like my church in a way,” he muses. He says the ongoing process of painting it has been a very personal process, which Pilato says he began as “a thank you to all those people.”

Pilato has made recent additions to the expansive painting, including adding Only With Consent founder and executive director Jasmin Enriquez and Kayla Nakonechni, the Penn State senior and THON dancer who fought through cancer with the help of the “Team Kayla” campaign.

“Everyone on that mural has one thing in common,” Pilato told the festival attendees. “They found something they’re passionate about and surrounded themselves with passionate people. If you can do that, then you can be the change we need for the future.”

The Arts Fest, which Pilato attends every year, continued through a seasonably hot weekend Saturday, with crowds of approximately 100,000 people enjoying art from across the country, the smells and tastes of street vendors and the sounds of live music.

Pilato’s mother helped found the Arts Fest, and he grew up to love the annual event’s power to bring people together. For him, bringing people together and creating art go hand-in-hand.

“With all the murals [my partner and I] do around the world, we are just the brush,” Pilato says. “The community is the artist.”


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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