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Q&A with Arts Fest Executive Director Rick Bryant

by on July 12, 2019 3:47 PM

With more than 125,000 people expected to attend the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts this weekend, an enormous amount of work needs to be put in throughout the year to make the event such a success.

Hundreds of volunteers will dedicate their time this weekend on numerous committees to make Arts Fest as enjoyable of an experience as possible.

However, one former volunteer who started out working with the trash crew has climbed all the way up the ladder to become the event’s executive director.

Rick Bryant, who has served as executive director of Arts Fest since 2005, is a local resident who works year-round with a small crew to pull off this tremendous event. Onward State sat down with him to learn more about his involvement in the community and recommendations for this weekend’s festivities.

Onward State: How did you get involved with Arts Fest? Do you remember visiting your first one?

Rick Bryant: I’m a local, and I definitely remember going to the festival in high school with my friends. I used to work in an office on South Allen Street, and the festival happened right outside the door. I was a new college graduate who wanted to meet some people, so my father encouraged me to volunteer. I started out as a volunteer picking up the garbage and worked my way up to the top.

OS: As executive director of Arts Fest, what are some of the daily tasks and jobs you’re in charge of throughout the year?

RB: I write grant proposals and grant reports. I help hire the jurors who pick the artists who are at the festival. I also prepare marketing materials, so that people know to come here, as well as I listen to a lot of music to help decide who we are going to have as a band. I also work directly with the borough of State College.

OS: How has Arts Fest grown and expanded since you became executive director in 2005?

RB: It really has changed quite a lot. People’s taste in art and music has changed a lot since I became involved. When I first became involved some artists sold macrame and candles, and they’re completely out of fashion so you don’t see that anymore. Also during the time I’ve been at the Arts Festival, the People’s Choice Festival in Boalsburg grew up and we’re delighted to have them as a draw for tourists to the area this week as well.

OS: How do you think Arts Fest brings the community together and unites residents, Penn State students, and people from all around the area?

RB: Well, it is by far the biggest event in the summer in this area. If you went downtown last week it’s pretty much deserted. If you talk to people who work here or shop here they’ll tell you how dead it is, but for one week, everybody is pulling together and people are downtown. It’s truly a vibrant place to be. Penn State students come back and they are not so limited to having to wake up and go to class in the morning, so it’s a good time for everybody.

OS: What is your personal favorite thing that goes on during the festival?

RB: I enjoy seeing my friends here. I have friends who are artists and musicians who I don’t get to see very often, so I really enjoy getting to see them over the few days of the festival. I really like the homecoming aspect of it, and I try to make time to see old friends as much as the time allows.

OS: Do you have a favorite artist, piece of work or exhibit that stands out to you?

RB: I do have some favorite artists, and I actually bought a complete set of dishes one plate at a time from somebody who exhibited it at the festival. I have other paintings and prints from other artists who were there, so my taste is a little eclectic, but I honestly try really hard to be a minimalist. I sometimes give my coworkers a personal bonus from my own pocket so that they can go out to the festival and get something because I want them to get something to remember the festival by each and every year.

OS: Do you have a favorite art museum or place in the world that serves as inspiration for you?

RB: I go to a ton of different museums. It’s actually something I really enjoy. I probably, even more so than museums, enjoy going to historic sites. If I had to pick a favorite site, I would probably say Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson lived. He was a designer, an architect, a gardener, basically a whole bunch of things all at once, and he did a lot of them very well, so I think that’s inspirational.

OS: How do you see Arts Fest expanding over the next few years? Any plans or dreams you would like to see come to life?

RB: We’re really working hard to try to get younger artists to apply. We found that artists who are in their 20s have figured out how to sell on Instagram and Etsy, and they don’t necessarily need to come to a festival. We really want those people to come. We want people who go to art school at Penn State, or Juniata or Bucknell or really any college to give it a shot. Take that entrepreneurial step and do some festivals!

OS: How can people volunteer or make the most out of their Arts Fest experience?

RB: If you want to make the most out of your experience at the festival, I would encourage them to buy the button which gets you into almost all of the indoor shows. It’s a really fantastic value. It’s also a great way to help pay for the festival because the hardest part about producing the festival is paying for it.

If people are interested in volunteering, they can check out our website. Really, if people want to make the most out of their time though, I would say go shopping. Not everything is scarily expensive. If you’re a good shopper you can find something with your name on it. There’s more to life than getting all of your stuff on Amazon. A lot of what these artists are selling is their story, so talk to them. Learn their story.


The 53rd annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts continues in downtown State College and on the Penn State campus through Sunday. For a full lineup of entertainment and activities, visit


Ryen Gailey is a Penn State student and a writer for Onward State.
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