Manayunk’s outdoor festival continues to give artists an outlet to grow

Beneath the shade of one of the seemingly endless white tents lining Manayunk’s Main Street on Saturday afternoon, customers watched as Princy Fears demonstrated the multiple ways her hand-painted silk ponchos can be styled. Fears’ versatile “wearable art” is just one example of the diverse and colorful items on display at the 2012 Manayunk Arts Festival.

“The product is practical,” Fears said. “Every day, you have different ways of wearing it.”

Of the nearly 300 artists from 23 states participating in this year’s show, few have toted their wares farther than Fears and her husband, John. The couple travels from their Southern California home to exhibitions across the country; this is the first year they added the Manayunk Arts Festival to their national tour.

Fears, like most of the artists assembled along Main Street, relies on festivals like Manayunk’s to sell and fund her craft.

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“I started off with just silk scarves and then, when the economy took a turn, I had to make some changes,” Fears said. “But I am having a lot of success here. It has been a good show.”

According to Jane Lipton, the Executive Director of the Manayunk Development Corporation, the festival is organized and executed with the artists’ needs and goals in mind.

“By making it a better show, we attract more artists because artists want to be in the highest quality show possible,” Lipton said.

Since Lipton became Executive Director in 2009, she and her team have incorporated improvements into the festival that have made exhibiting in Manayunk easier and more worthwhile for artists.

“I am really, really proud of what we have done with the festival in the last three years,” Lipton said. “We had 280 to 300 applications in 2009. This year, we had 550 applications.”

Emerging artists 

One major change new to this year’s festival is the Emerging Artists Showcase tent, located at the intersection of Main Street and Roxborough Avenue and sponsored by Manayunk’s BRR Architecture and The Little Apple vintage boutique. The tent exclusively features local, undiscovered artists who are residents or students in the Philadelphia area.

For Gretchen Hess, a young photographer, print maker and recent college graduate, the Emerging Artists Showcase is a promising kick-off to her career as a professional artist. The Manayunk Arts Festival marks her first show.

“I’m getting my work seen so it’s a good opportunity,” Hess said. “I haven’t sold anything yet but I am getting a lot of positive feedback, which is great.”

Lipton said that other festival developments include an increase in marketing, a strict rule against selling other artists’ work and a more “streamlined” application and jury process with an emphasis on artists’ “quality and mission.” Today, the Manayunk Arts Festival is the tri-state area’s largest outdoor juried arts show.

As the number of participating artists has grown and diversified, so, too, has the festival’s crowd. The Manayunk Development Corporation expects 200,000 to 240,000 people to attend the festival.

A key location

But perhaps the most essential element to the festival’s success is its backdrop of historic Manayunk. Area business owners cooperate and collaborate with festival organizers as Main Street is closed off to traffic for the two-day event. At this year’s festival, which is centered around the Manayunk Canal water art installation “Escaped Infrastructure,” Enthusiasm for the arts in Philadelphia is palpable.

Artist Armond Scavo, a festival regular whose hometown of Philadelphia is often the subject of his award-winning photography, agrees.

“I’ve been here every year but one. I like to support anything Philly does and it’s just a good festival for everybody,” Scavo said. “And I like Manayunk.”

The 23rd Annual Manayunk Arts Festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. along Main Street from Green Lane to Shurs Lane. The outdoor festival features seven different mediums, including fiber, glass and ceramics, jewelry, mixed media, painting and drawing, photography and wood sculpture.

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