Every so often, the places we love are subject to the fleeting desires of the people surrounding them — maybe your roommate is suddenly overcome with the inexplicable desire to cover their half of the room in floor-to-wall movie posters, or maybe your teacher decides to transform your classroom into a miniature Hogwarts (look it up — this actually happened). Or maybe, just maybe, a group of people decides to transform a park into a performance space, a seemingly endless portal into a world teeming with inspiration, creativity and pure delight.
This was Allentown ArtsFest 2017, a three-day event that spanned from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 and was jam-packed with bands, vendors and, of course, food that constituted an art form in and of itself. Though a visit to Cedar Beach Park never fails to provide a great story to tell, this past weekend had filled the space with a vitality I had never felt before. Children and adults alike donned their most creative garb, all venturing along a kind of yellow-brick-road to whatever artistic medium they wanted to see: the event’s Facebook page did not lie when it proclaimed that “ArtsFest offers something for everyone to enjoy.” Pat Kanter ’20, who walked to the festival on Saturday afternoon, found that he experienced a unique blend of familiar and unfamiliar faces.
“[I] did … check out the majority of the vendors. It was refreshing to see how much art people are making in the real world,” Kanter said. “One of the artists that stuck out to me was Brian’s Dots, who did pointillism art. Normally I don’t enjoy that style, but his works were amusing. We also got coffee from the Coffee House Without Limits stand. They’re based in Allentown … I go there every now and again to study and it’s always so welcoming.”
Bringing together different types of media is what sets ArtsFest apart from festivals like it — while others tend to focus on only one aspect of art, such as songs or painting, ArtsFest lives up to the “s” in its name by allowing each of these arts to mingle with others in perfect harmony. Veteran ArtsFest attendee Elena Nahrmann ’19 recalls her joy at simply being able to take in all of these works at the same time.
“ … There was always something to accompany our ears as our eyes wandered through an artistic wonderland.”
“I remember going to ArtsFest with the performance ensemble I’m a part of last year. We spent what was our normal rehearsal time walking around sniffing artisan soaps and taste testing local honey … it is just so nice to go wandering through the different stalls,” said Nahrmann. “Each of the vendors are super friendly and have great things to sell. My personal favorite has always been this guy who spray paints vinyl records with the album covers or landscapes. But the thing that really makes ArtsFest special in my opinion is the music. It feels like every twenty feet there’s another band playing and they’re really good. There was a guy with an electric xylophone!”
Though each aspect of ArtsFest, including an impromptu skate park and a booth or two of full-scale carnival games, was impressive and intriguing, perhaps the most striking feature was indeed the music – as I walked along the path with my friend, we continually encountered new tunes blasting from covered tents. As soon as one faded, the next would begin, never quite overlapping, but just making sure that there was always something to accompany our ears as our eyes wandered through an artistic wonderland. In fact, music was what drew Kanter to the festival in the first place.
“I’m obsessed with music and going to concerts as often as I can…One of the first [shows in Allentown] that I went to was actually at Muhlenberg (I was a sophomore in high school if I remember correctly), hosted by WMUH in Seegers Union,” Kanter said. “Now I’m the music director for WMUH, and I’m currently booking the fall concert, featuring a local Bethlehem band as the opener! Funny how things work out! But yeah, I also just try to expose myself to art and appreciate art in general.”
Even if you’re just looking for something to do on a weekend afternoon, ArtsFest and other local events provide perfect opportunities for students to get to know the community around us and, as with the World of Food Festival a few weeks ago, pop the Muhlenbubble. According to Nahrmann, these events are even more accessible (and, perhaps, more worth a visit) than some of the more well-publicized ones.
“[ArtsFest is] a great excuse to get outside and spend time with friends not in Seegers or the dining hall, not to mention it’s free,” said Nahrmann. “Unlike the [Allentown] Fair, you can stop by and not have to worry about seeing everything that day.”
This sentiment is echoed by Kanter, whose enthusiasm for ArtsFest is the perfect reminder of how important a constant and active presence of the arts can be, especially when it starts from within a community itself:
“… People, especially Muhlenberg Students, should support community events like ArtsFest … just showing up at these events is important, not only for the artists but also for everyone else … there are so many talented, creative individuals in Allentown and the Greater Lehigh Valley who don’t have the means to go to [college] or otherwise get the word out about their art. ArtsFest, Coffee House Without Limits, the Alternative Gallery, the Art Establishment, [the Lehigh Valley] Zine Fest; these are all places where local artists can show off their beautiful art, and where Muhlenberg students could potentially admire that art. Of course, it can be difficult to get to these places without a car, but at least ArtsFest is right down the street…”