After two years of cancellations due to Covid-19, the Allentown Art Festival is set to return this weekend, and festival president Rita Harrington-Lippman is as thrilled as she is relieved.
“We’re delighted to be back,” she said Friday. “It’s been such a dark time. We’re delighted to bring people back together, bring art back to the streets of Buffalo.”
The street festival will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with about 300 vendors participating, the president said. Pre-pandemic, the festival ranged between 350 and 400 artists.
The layout for 2022 is slightly different due to a multi-phase overhaul of Allen Street; a stretch of Allen between Delaware and Elmwood has been torn up from construction and blocked off to traffic for months.
Festival exhibitors will set up on Delaware Avenue between West Tupper and North streets; a small stretch of newly paved Virginia Street between Delaware Avenue and Franklin Street; Franklin Street between Allen and Virginia streets; and Allen Street between Franklin Street and Delaware Avenue.
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The section of Allen Street between Delaware and Elmwood typically represents the western leg of the Allentown Art Festival, connecting it to the smaller and unaffiliated Allen West Art Festival, which features only Western New York artists on Allen between Elmwood and Wadsworth.
Mike Finn and Nolan Skipper from Buffalo’s Department of Public Works, Parks and Streets said Friday that pedestrians may use sidewalks on both sides of Allen in the construction zone, but the sidewalk passageway on the south side is wider and preferred. Businesses in the thick of the construction zone, including bar-restaurants Allen Burger Venture, Gabriel’s Gate and Frizzy’s, are listed at each end of the blocked-off area and will be open for the festival.
Harrington-Lippman said there was initial concern during festival planning that the three-year construction project would create more hurdles for the festival, but that has not transpired. “It really won’t have a big effect,” she said.
The president did mention that a fan-favorite, veteran exhibitor – sculptor Richard Kolb from Louisville, Ky. – would have to relocate his booth due to construction. He will now be stationed near the Allen and Franklin intersection.
“One of the joys is to be able to come and see an artist they’ve seen for many years,” Harrington-Lippman said. “Many become friends when they see them year after year.”
Harrington-Lippman said a new wave of exhibitors will take part this year, not surprising given the three years between festivals. The president said that while there’s still a blend of ages, roughly 30 new artists – many of them younger – have been selected to take part in the festival, replacing a slew of now-retired artists.
The participants, organized by type of art at allentownartfestival.com, are mostly from the U.S. and Canada, with more than half from New York State. As usual, the festival is adjudicated, with 12 awards determined by a panel of judges. Harrington-Lippman believes this year marks the first time an artist from South Africa has taken part, with painter Freddy Tutu Ncube joining the fray.
In evaluating applicants’ artwork, Harrington-Lippman was impressed by the quality of submissions across several mediums following the pandemic hiatus. In other words, time away from the festival path hasn’t led to artistic stagnancy.
“There’s an expression of what’s been going on in the past two years,” she said, “a tremendous amount of creativity in people.”
Food and drink vendors will be scattered throughout the festival, and a new program of live jazz music will kick off outside the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site from 2 to 5 p.m. both days, with the Bobby Militello Quartet playing Saturday and Star People on Sunday.
For the Allen West Art Festival, which runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 119 artists and vendors will present side-by-side, with buskers comprising a violinist, clarinetist and accordion player creating a lively atmosphere. Jonathan White, organizer and co-founder of Allen West, also praised the city – particularly Skipper and project manager Alex Bullers – for its communication, completion of sewer work and paving of the festival stretch between Elmwood and Wadsworth in time for the festival to occur.
“It feels like two years of remarkable destruction of our societal norms by the pandemic has now subsided,” White said. “We want to welcome people and make them feel like this is the way life was prior.”
Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at [email protected], at (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.