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Behind the Scenes at Arts Fest with 'General Jan'

by on July 14, 2013 4:42 PM

Although the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts ends today, Jan Phillips is still busy answering phones and making sure everything for the festival is running smoothly.

“Festival of the Arts, Jan speaking,” she says, answering a phone in the festival’s offices on South Allen Street.

Her voice has been on the receiving end of phone calls to the organization for more than 40 years. Phillips moved to State College in the late 1960s right around the time of the first Arts Fest. She’s been volunteering in some capacity ever since and says she got involved because of her combined affection for talking to people and the arts.

“I don’t consider this work,” she says. “I find it very rewarding in lots of different ways. It’s rewarding for me because I meet lots of different people and it’s rewarding to remember people like the artists coming into the office.”

Phillips has watched the Arts Fest grow year to year from a small community event with 100 vendors to an extremely popular festival that now hosts 330 vendors. A lot has changed over the years. Phillips says the route of the festival has been modified a few times and vandalism has decreased. And although the internet has helped decrease the number of callers looking for information, Phillips says she fields one question every year.

“How can I get to the Arts Festival?” she says, imitating a caller. “My first question is, ‘Well, where are you?’” From there, she does her best to make sure travellers have a better idea how to get to Happy Valley.

Phillips says she’s responsible for “keeping all of the balls in the air” for the festival, which entails knowing where all of the volunteers are at all times, answering questions, contacting staff and basically just making sure any problems are dealt with in a timely manner. Her laundry list of responsibilities has grown over the years as the festival has continued to expand, warranting her the nickname “General Jan,” which she proudly displays on her event nametag.

“I say it like it is,” she says about her nickname. “Someone one day told a volunteer, ‘You do whatever the General tells you to do.’ So we had some fun with it and it’s stuck.”

As volunteers file in and out of the office, they stop to chat with Phillips, who seems to be the group’s matriarch with her warm smile and encouraging remarks. One volunteer is talking about a group picture that is happening soon to commemorate the 2013 festival.

Phillips will be in the office, making sure everything continues to run smoothly.

“As long as I can stay upright and not six feet under, I can keep doing it,” she says.


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Shawn Christ is a recent Penn State graduate who is working as an intern for
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