Arts, Culture and Collaboration Take Over Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In a rite of summer in the Mahoning Valley, some 13,000 people will wander the campus of Youngstown State University July 13 and 14 for the Summer Festival of the Arts.

And with collaboration between the university, the Youngstown Wine and Jazz Festival and the St. Nicholas. Greek Orthodox Church Summerfest, the weekend showcases some of the best the city has to offer.

“It shows that we’re all able to get along and we’re all able to collaborate for common cause,” said Lori Factor, director of the Summer Festival of the Arts. “That’s important in a community like ours because the arts are not as greatly funded as they were and so we have to come together and share marketing and ideas, and infrastructure things that make sense.” 

More than 80 artists will set up at the festival after being selected by a jury of area artists. In addition, two dozen performing artists are also included in the festival. Each artist has to apply, and they have to provide an application and a statement of what their artwork is, what their process is. In addition, they also have to provide images of their artwork and what their booth looks like so they can be evaluated. 

“We’re different than many other events that you can rent a table,” Factor said. “Someone can’t just rent a table. They have to go through the process. We had between 110 and 120 apply and the jurors recommended 80, so that’s what we can safely have as far as what the market will bear. We want each artist to walk away having made some money.” 

Rather than a weekend of competition, Factor said each event allows everyone involved to feed off of one another in collaboration. The majority of the time spent on planning for the Summer Festival of the Arts takes place the last couple of months prior. Communication with previous years’ artist is conducted in November and December to see who is coming back and it is built out from there. 

“We could not do this without the dean’s, provost’s and the president’s help with their attention to what this event means to the community, so we start to put those pieces in motion,” Factor says. “Usually in May and June, it hits the high marks and we’re making sure that we have all of our campus police, parking, grounds. It is a team effort.”

Bob Barko has been involved with the Summer Festival of the Arts since it started 21 years ago. As a graphic artist and owner at Steel Town Studios, he works to bring art based on Youngstown’s pop culture to buyers. 

“It is truly a celebration of the arts,” he said. “If you can’t find music, food and visual artwork at the Summer Festival of the Arts, you’re never going to find it anywhere else. It is such an amazing effort between Lori Factor and her team at YSU and President Tressel. Everybody is so welcoming.” 

For Barko, the Summer Festival of the Arts is the kickoff show of the summer. As he approaches the 20th anniversary of Steel Town Studios, it remains one of the most eagerly anticipated shows. 

“My choice of subject matter happens to be Idora Park, Mill Creek, historic and contemporary downtown, all the things that when folks think about Youngstown they think about,” he said, noting that his pieces are painted on panels about four feet long. “This year, we’re going to be unveiling two new panels [at the Summer Festival of the Arts], eight more feet of Youngstown history.” 

But the Summer Festival of the Arts isn’t the only attraction in town that weekend. If people get an opportunity to attend, they should do themselves a favor to take in authentic Greek food and culture, says Socrates Kolitsos, president of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church congregation parish council.

Socrates Kolistos says traditional Greek food is a hallmark of the St. Nicholas Summerfest.

All four days of the Greek fest, July 11-14, lamb and chicken are served along with psari plakifish, which is a Greek styled fish, on Friday. Other Greek foods served include souvlaki, gyros, spanakopita and pastitso, which is like lasagna but without tomato. 

Every year on Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13, the church’s Summerfest features a dance group from the Greek church along with other groups from neighboring churches and a band consisting of musicians from Warren, Pittsburgh and Cleveland called The Filarakia, which means “The Friends” in Greek. 

“On Sunday we have a DJ,” Kolitsos said. “He’s a very good DJ with a lot of music [in Greek and American.] We also have Mythos beer, a beer from Greece, and Fix, another beer from Greece.” 

“We’re very thankful that the community has responded because when I was a little boy, nobody wanted to try something different,” Kolitsos said. “Now, they’ll stand in a long line to get it. We’ve been blessed with a strong following. We’re looking forward to the four day festival.”

With the collaboration between the events, it sets the stage for Youngstown to present itself as a destination, whether for out-of-town visitors or locals looking for a fun weekend. 

“I think the more we can push out and collaborate on the events to promote it, get the word out so people can really plan a weekend [here],” said Tara Mady, assistant director at the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Every event compliments each other.”

Pictured: Lori Factor, director of YSU’s Summer Festival of the Arts, says 80 artists and two dozen performers will be on hand at this year’s event July 13 and 14.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.