YSU Embraces City, Moves Arts Festival

Youngstown State University’s Summer Festival of the Arts, a staple of the city for more than 30 years, is moving downtown to become more integrated into the community.

The festival, which attracts about 15,000 people over its two days, will become the first major event at Wean Park and officials see it as an arts cornerstone of the 20-acre green space.

The park was hailed as a place for the community to come together when it opened last year but the pandemic halted almost all activity there.

This year’s event will take place July 17 and 18 in the new riverfront park, between Covelli Centre and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre. Admission, as always, will be free.

Previously held on YSU’s campus, last year’s event was canceled because of the pandemic. Last month, Gov. Michael DeWine announced that summer fairs can proceed, perhaps with some capacity limitations.

The annual Jazz Fest, which traditionally takes place near the YSU campus on the first evening of the festival, will be moved to the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre this year and held on July 17.

Ken Bigley, vice president of park and amphitheater operator JAC Management, said he is in the process of booking an act but could not yet reveal who it will be.

For the university, moving the festival downtown serves its goal of engaging with the city.

“We’re trying to be sure that we’re part of the community in which we exist,” said Phyllis Paul, dean of the Cliffe College of Creative Arts at YSU. “It’s one thing to bring the community to us. It’s another thing to bring us to the community. We’d like to grow [the festival] and we couldn’t grow much more on campus. It’s the right time to move.”

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown called the festival “a perfect fit” for Wean Park. For at least this year, holding the festival at Wean Park will eliminate any inconvenience for motorists taking Fifth Avenue to the campus. The street, between downtown and U.S. Route 422, is under construction as part of the Smart2 Project.

YSU President Jim Tressel said the university is looking forward to resuming the festival tradition in a new location.

“We are excited to bring our nationally recognized annual arts festival to this new community park along the Mahoning River,” Tressel said. “We hope this move will help further grow the festival and will also further introduce the community to this beautiful new downtown recreation area.”

The main focus of the festival is always the artist village, which will remain a juried event. Typically, about 120 artists submit works to the festival, with about 80 accepted by YSU art faculty members who serve as jurors, according to festival director Lori Factor.

Factor is working with JAC Management to iron out the logistics of the festival. JAC’s Bigley said the Covelli Centre parking lot will be available for  festival-goers. The Huntington Bank Community Alley beneath the Market Street Bridge will likely see action as an area for vendors and several small stages will be set up around the park for performances, Bigley said.

The festival also features live music and dance performances, children’s activities, an ethnic-food village and food and beverage vendors.

“When we first envisioned Wean Park and Huntington Bank Community Alley, we talked about arts, culture, diversity, inclusiveness and a way to bring the community together,” said Eric Ryan, president of JAC Management. “It’s amazing that this event encapsulates all of that.”

Another major summer event downtown that did not take place last year because of the pandemic is the Youngstown Comic Con. But unlike the Summer Festival of the Arts, the Comic Con will be canceled again.

“It takes almost a year to plan and the way things are, it would be a waste of time and money to try to put on an event up to the quality that everyone has come to appreciate,” said Greg Bartholomew, presenter of the event and owner of All American Comics and Cards in Warren and Boardman.

Pictured: Phyllis Paul of Youngstown State University announced March 22 that the Summer Festival of the Arts will be moved to Wean Park in downtown Youngstown.