I Saw Every Arts Festival Booth—and I Can Prove It
I’ve been to the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the arts many, many times in the 37 years I’ve lived in State College. But this year I saw it in a whole new way: as one of the five jurors for the festival’s Sidewalk Sale and Exhibition.
I wrote about being a juror in our May-June issue—click on the image at right to see a PDF of that story. Being a juror has two parts: First, we met on campus last February to review the submissions of about 900 artists who wanted to be in the show, and we essentially decided who’d be invited. Then, this past Thursday and Friday, we showed up the arts festival in person and stopped at each one of the 300-plus booths, to see the art up close and score it again. Late Friday afternoon we met for two hours to compare notes and argue over which artists should receive the various “best in show” awards—cash prizes totaling more than $17,000.
Of the two parts to being a juror, there’s no doubt which was the harder: what we did last Thursday and Friday. I never imagined that something so fun—strolling the arts festival booths—could make me so neurotic.
We reported to the arts festival offices on Allen Street, right in the thick of the festival route, on Thursday at 9:30 a.m., a half-hour before the artists would be opening their booths for the first time. Pam Lautsch ’81, ’88g, who chairs the sidewalk sale, and Anni Matsick, who’s in charge of the jurying (both are volunteers), issued us clipboards with score sheets listing the artists by location—one sheet for Pollock Road booths, one for the Old Main Mall, one for Allen Street, and so on.
We also met our escorts: Each of the jurors would be accompanied by a volunteer who would serve as a guide (helpful especially to the jurors who aren’t from around here), who would paste a sticker with our name on it on each booth to prove we’d been there, and who could extricate us if an artist was getting a little too chatty and keeping us from staying on schedule.
Staying on schedule: That was what made me so crazy. The goal was to get to all 300 booths by 5 p.m. Thursday, and, well, let’s just say I failed in spectacular fashion. I loved looking at the art, I loved talking to the artists, I loved bumping into and gabbing with other festival-goers whom I hadn’t seen in years. I loved taking a lunch break with a steak sandwich and lemonade from one of the food booths. I did not keep track of the time.
My escort, Martha Carothers ’77, kept trying to get me to pick up the pace (“Let’s see if we can do the rest of this block in a half hour”), but somehow I just couldn’t do it. By 5 p.m., after seven hours of looking at jewelry and paintings and mixed media and photography and ceramics, I had done only about two-thirds of the booths. I still had 100 booths on Pollock Road and the Old Main Mall to cover. Martha was willing to stick around a little past 5, but I didn’t feel right about taking any more of her time, and besides, my feet were killing me.
That meant that on Friday I’d have exactly three hours to cover the remaining booths, so that I could turn in my score sheets in by the 1 p.m. deadline. I lay in bed Thursday night and did the math: three hours is 180 minutes, and 180 minutes divided by 100 booths is one minute and 48 seconds per booth. And that’s assuming I need no bathroom breaks and don’t run into anyone I know.
At Pam Lautsch’s suggestion, I actually showed up on the Old Main Mall around 9:20 on Friday morning, and was able to catch a number of artists as they were setting up their booths for the day. That head start helped a lot. I also adopted a much more businesslike approach. I worked hard to muzzle myself around the artists and stop saying things like, “Oh, you’re from Pittsburgh—what part of Pittsburgh?” or “Did you take that photo at Greenmount Cemetery, by chance?” or “Hey, I think my brother-in-law bought one of your hats here a few years ago.” Instead, I’d just introduce myself as one of the jurors, spend a little time looking at their wares, then say something like, “Your work is terrific—thanks for letting me have a look,” before scooting off to the next booth.
And it worked. I turned in my scores by 12:50 p.m.—ten minutes ahead of the deadline.
Next year, I’m back to being just a civilian. I can stroll some of the booths, or all, or none. I can stop and buy a funnel cake if I want, or sit down on a bench on Allen Street listen to some live music. I can spend a half hour watching the sand sculptor do his work. I can go check out the Italian Street Painting. But I’m glad for the chance I had to play a role in this year’s festival, and the chance to experience the art and the artists in a way I never had before.
Tina Hay, editor