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As State College Resumes Normalcy, Arts Festival Counts Successes

on July 20, 2011 4:03 PM

The temporary Allen Street landscaping is disassembled for another year. Food grease from the street vendors has been rinsed away. The Old Main Lawn no longer looks like an amphitheater.

With the book now closed on the 45th annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, event organizers and longtime observers said this year's rendition marked a substantial success on several key fronts.

Overall festival attendance, gauged through several anecdotal measures, appeared very strong -- buoyed especially by the picturesque weather. Artists, in general, reported relatively strong sales.

And BookFestPA, a series of literary events associated with the five-day State College festival, more than doubled its attendance over last year. Nearly 3,000 people participated in BookFest, up from roughly 700 when the series began last summer, festival Executive Director Rick Bryant said.

"We had more authors; we had more local authors. It was just a bigger deal all the way around," he said.

Pam Lautsch, who organizes the festival's Sidewalk Sale and Exhibition, featuring some 300 artists, said turnout there was pretty consistent throughout. All days of the festival, which ended Sunday, saw sunny skies and warm temperatures.

Humidity and heat began to creep toward uncomfortable territory only toward the end of the festival.

"The weather always brings more people out," Lautsch said. "Thursday and Friday, there was more strolling going on than when it's hotter."

The relatively moderate temperatures also helped artists' sales, Lautsch said, as visitors were more willing to linger, revisit artist booths and carry purchases around.

"As it gets warmer," she said, "you get a little crankier."

Overall annual attendance at the festival is projected in the 100,000 range. To help keep the peace, local police ramp up their presence through the festival week.

Police call volume this year was about on par with last year's festival, with incidents spiking overnight between Saturday and Sunday -- many of them connected to alcohol abuse.

Borough officers also reported six thefts of art from artists' booths. One involved a historic coin worth $500; the second, a $495 painting; the third, jewelry worth $515; the fourth, paintings together worth $190; the fifth, a mixed-media item worth $1,200; and the sixth, a metal statue.

Only the statue has been recovered, after the apparent thief was literally chased down in State College, police said.

The thefts aside, organizers said they were largely pleased with the festival. Strong turnout was reflected in use of the downtown parking garages, which repeatedly reached capacity during peak festival hours, borough officials said.

Next year, Bryant said, organizers may adjust the performance schedule somewhat, though specifics have yet to emerge. And as always, festival leaders said, the nonprofit organization could use volunteers to help run the operations. Dozens upon dozens of community volunteers help make the festival happen each July.

But "there's a core group of volunteers who do meet year-around and work together to put this show on," Lautsch said. "People don't realize it's not just a (five-) day event. ...Six weeks from now, we'll be in full swing planning for next year's event."

Anyone interested in lending a hand can reach out to the festival organization through its website, Lautsch said.

Meanwhile, Bryant offered this hope for next year's festival crowd:

"I wish," he said, "that people would leave their dogs at home."

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