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Gorgeous Weather, Crowds Herald Arts Festival's Start

on July 14, 2011 7:58 AM

Awash in near-perfect summer weather, the 45th annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts launched with a booming start Wednesday.

A variety of anecdotal measures suggested that the State College festival's opening day -- Children and Youth Day -- saw one of its biggest turnouts in years, helped along by the sunshine, moderate temperatures and an expanded Youth Sidewalk Sale.

"There are more kids out there than I shake a stick at," festival Executive Director Rick Bryant joked Wednesday afternoon in the festival office.

And the quality of the youth-made art in the Youth Sidewalk Sale, he said, was remarkable.

"I bought some paper lanterns that I thought could have been in Martha Stewart Living," he said, producing the handmade lanterns. The price? Two for $9.

In addition to face-painting, live entertainment and demonstrations, the Youth Sidewalk Sale is among the traditional staples of Children and Youth Day. For $12 a table, young artisans with local ties can set up shop along South Allen Street for five hours, offering their wares to their peers and any other passers-by.

This year, the Youth Sidewalk Sale counted 160 booths in all -- a new record, up from 142 last year, said coordinator Sharon Frazier. All the participating artists must be between the ages of 8 and 18.

"The neatest thing is how validated they're all feeling right now," Frazer said of the participants. " ... The level of self-esteem out there is bubbling over."

Their offerings spanned a range, from duct-tape wallets to wooden cutting boards, sheet-metal art and jewelry.

At one booth, 11-year-old Saige Cestone, of State College, was selling bug jars crafted from peanut-butter jars, bracelets featuring keyboard components, and lanyards -- among other items.

She and a friend were trying to raise money to help finance a trip to Savannah, Ga., where they want to see the history of the Girl Scouts, Cestone said.

Business leveled off a little bit as temperatures rose in the afternoon Wednesday, but still met expectations, she said.

She had a chance to check out the sale's other artwork, too.

"I think a lot of it's some pretty cool stuff," Cestone said. "I've seen a lot of duct-tape (items) and (hand-made) cards. A lot of it is the same idea."

Given that, though, she said the sale still held a number of surprises.

One new twist this year was the presence of an Alpha Fire Company engine that visitors could tour, along with a borough police cruiser, Bryant said. He said the face-paint offerings also were strengthened this year.

While there's no way to count exactly how many people came to State College for Children and Youth Day, informal gauges suggested the numbers were substantial Wednesday. For one thing, the borough's three big downtown parking garages all reached capacity by the early afternoon -- something that hasn't happened in at least two years, parking Manager Charles DeBow said.

Plus, the density of the crowds on Allen Street was remarkable, some longtime observers said.

Pleasant weather is forecast to remain throughout the festival, which will end Sunday. The forecast for the State College projects sunny skies and high temperatures in the low- to mid-80s for the next several days.

The festival's traditional Sidewalk Sale -- for grown-up artists and visitors -- is set to begin today, along with a full slate of live entertainment that'll last through Sunday. More than 100,000 people attend the festival each year, according to event projections.

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