Counting Down to Summer Festival of the Arts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As she sits near the fountain next to Kilcawley Center on the Youngstown State University campus, Lori Factor, coordinator of Summer Festival of the Arts, is making mental comparisons of what the campus looks like now and what it will look like this weekend.

A few students and professors walk around, but campus is largely empty on Monday morning. This Thursday night, however, will be a much different story. That’s when food trucks for the Summer Festival of the Arts begin arriving.

Then, on Friday, the artists will pitch their tents. On Saturday and Sunday, Factor projects that 13,000 people will be on campus.

“For me to see this with the regular goings-on — with the knowledge of how it’ll change by Friday — it’s great,” she says. “We feel like we know how to do an art festival pretty well.”

Seventy-five artists and a dozen performances are on the schedule for the 17th edition of the festival. Most of the artists are from northeastern Ohio, including quite a few YSU graduates, she notes, but some are en route from Florida and New York.

Getting the annual event set up is a yearlong process. Next week, after the booths have been disassembled, Factor and the other planners –  “We have a very small group, including two students,” she says – will hold a post mortem to assess what went well and what can be improved for the next festival.

“I always like hearing from artists right after the festival,” she says. “Some of the best ideas we’ve gotten are a result of quick emails after the event where they tell us what we might consider changing.”

And, as a juried festival, a committee made up of faculty and staff in YSU’s College of Creative Arts and Communication, host of the festival, must go through the applicants to select the 75 to 80 artists who will have booths.

“Although we have the space here, we want to make sure the community will support these artists,” Factor explains. “That means we want them all to make some money. If there are 150 artists, that wouldn’t happen.”

One point of pride for Factor and the organizers is the diversity of art at the festival. Past vendors have included painters, photographers, jewelers, woodworkers and other media. Some artists even produce art during the show for customers.

“We don’t want to end up with a jewelry show or a photography show,” Factor adds. “Part of the reason we have the jurors choose artists is to keep a good balance in all categories of artwork.”

A big draw for artists, Factor reports, is the environment on YSU’s core campus.

“One thing they really like is this green space. You don’t drive onto this campus and expect it to be this nice and this green,” she says. “It’s a big draw for a lot of people because many times they’re just in a parking lot with a tent.”

And it’s not just the artists who enjoy the campus in full bloom. For many, it’s a nice retreat from the center of the city.

“People enjoy being outdoors where they can see all the different artists,” says Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is helping advertise the event. “It’s established such a reputation over the past 17 years that it gives people another reason to come to the Valley along with the complimentary events.”

This year, the complimentary events include the Downtown Jazz Fest on Saturday, the 2DE Gospel Festival 2K15 on Sunday and the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Greek Summerfest that runs Thursday through Sunday.

All events combined are branded as the Summer Festival of the Arts Weekend.

“In some cases, it may be considered competition between everyone. But we know that we have to work together because people go from one event to another,” Factor says. “Capturing their attention from event to event is important. And it’s working.”

Macala adds that combining the events attracts more people than if they were held without communication among the four of them.

“Arts and culture are always a big draw and this is one of the most event-filled weekends of the summer in Youngstown,” she says. “It draws people, not only the artists but also visitors, from all over.”

But when the preparation – the advertising, the selection of artists, the setup – is over, the show won’t be that different from years past, Factor says.

“Art festivals work best when there’s not a lot of change. We try to shake up the performances a bit by bringing in some new acts, but we want to keep continuity with the art segment,” she relates. “There will be a good mix of new things and things that have worked in the past.”

New to the festival this year will be an opening ceremony. It will feature YSU President Jim Tressel and the color guard from the 910th Airlift unit at Youngstown Air Reserve Station. The addition will draw even more people to the largest event this summer at YSU.

From year to year, though, people get excited about the festival, regardless of what changes.

“I enjoy seeing what our local artists have to offer and seeing the performing acts there,” Macala says. “I’m a big fan of the food they have. It’s something I enjoy every single year.”

Pictured: Lori Factor, coordinator of Summer Festival of the Arts.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.