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Arts Festival Director Perfect Fit for the Lead Role

by on July 07, 2013 1:20 PM

The Arts Festival has been a big part of Rick Bryant's life for a long time. He's come a long way from his post-undergraduate days as a volunteer trash collector, rising to the lead role of Festival Director. His friends say it's his glowing personality, loyalty and creativity that make him the right fit for the big job. 

"He has a heart of gold, and he would do anything for his friends," says Martha Freeman, who's known Bryant for 15 years. "He keeps his friends close because he's so thoughtful ... he's always writing things down, listening, and ready to help out.

"You can see he has an amazing aesthetic eye. He's very sophisticated," Freeman says.

Bryant, who's known as "The Wandering Wahoo" on Twitter and his personal blog, calls himself a "doofus hipster wannabe" and says he was voted most clumsy in his senior class. During Bryant's first week as Festival Director, a truck ran over his leg, forcing him to have surgery the Tuesday of Festival Week.

Minus the mishap, Bryant has enjoyed a lot of success as Festival Director. His parents moved to State College in 1948, long before the festival began. Bryant came back to the area after graduating from the University of Virginia and was working in insurance at his father's office on South Allen Street.

Volunteering for the trash crew felt like a "good way to meet people," Bryant says. He had no idea at the time it would turn into a career.

Eventually, Bryant left insurance for a full-time position with the Arts Festival as the director of visual of arts, and was later named director.

Pam Lautsch, who's known Bryant for nearly 30 years, since his days as a volunteer on the trash crew, says Bryant's unique skills make him a great director. She thinks his background in insurance gives him the "business acumen" to deal with the financial needs of the Arts Festival and his degree, in architectural history, gives him a creative edge.

"His degree is much more visually-oriented, and that really comes through with how he perceives the art and the overall layhout," says Lautsch, the Arts Festival Sidewalk Sale Coordinator.

"He's eclectic, very minimalist. He definitely gets right to the point, and at the same time, he's a very caring person," Lautsch says. "And he's hysterically funny."

Bryant has always had a penchant for creativity, and the Arts Festival, coupled with his writing, allowed him to fulfill and long time love for the arts. He's a minimalist, and says vistiors to his home can get a feel of his style just by looking around.

A few members of Bryant's family are local – he has a sister in Bellefonte, a brother in Penns Valley and a nephew in State College – who come to the Arts Festival every year. 

"I have a very colorful family," Bryant says. "We each think we're the normal one." 

A lot of work goes in to making the Arts Festival a reality each year. Bryant's favorite part, year after year, continues to be the people.

"I like seeing all of my old friends," he says. "It's really nice."

Freeman says his love for family and friends is what makes Arts Festival volunteers flock to Bryant, offering their help.

"One thing is his work ethic, but another thing he brings to the festival ... the people are amazingly loyal to him. He's inspiring, and a good friend and people want to be a good friend to him," Freeman says. 

Lautsch says part of the reason people come back year after year to volunteer is because of Bryant's warm and welcoming personality. 

"You just want to be around him. He's one of those kind of guys you want to be a friend to. Part of it is his humor and part of it is this underyling current, he wants everybody to be part of the group joy and fun and experience," she says.

This year, the 46th annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts runs from July 10-14. Check out the schedule of events here.



Laura Nichols is a StateCollege.com news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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