Manayunk Arts Festival draws thousands to Main Street

Main Street in Manayunk was closed to traffic all weekend, overrun with the displays of hundreds of artists and vendors during the 24th annual Manayunk Arts Festival.

Organizers estimate that more than 200,000 people visited the festival to see the work of new and returning artists while trying out a few local food vendors.

Crowds gathered at various points along Main Street to watch artists create paintings, knit scarves and break out in dancing flash mobs, while some enjoyed a snack at one of the many local restaurants that expanded their seating onto the sidewalk and into the street.

Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corporation, said the highlight of the 2013 festival was being able to feature the highest caliber of art in recent memory. She said the MDC received applications from approximately 600 artists and accepted about half of them. Not all were local, either, as artists traveled from 29 states and Canada to participate.

“As we had more artists to draw from and look at, the quality of the work has gone higher and higher,” said Lipton. She noted that none of the art is commercially produced. 

Art on display and in action 

Teresa Haag of Phoenixville, who was participating in her second festival, appreciates the extra exposure. 

“My work is pretty much Philadelphia-based, so the ability to get in front of my audience and show them the work from my own perspective has been amazing,” said Haag. 

She paints urban landscapes and cityscapes on either canvas or boards that she then covers in newspaper. She was one of several artists who took the opportunity to display their work while creating new pieces on the spot.

“My best paintings are those I do in front of people,” she said. “All the energy that comes through the people goes right into my work. I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

Increasing exposure for new artists 

The festival contained an Emerging Artist tent for the second straight year. Lipton said the tent was an experiment in 2012 that consisted of 12 artists who were “younger or young at heart and just entering the field.” The tent expanded to 30 artists for this year’s festival.

One of these Emerging Artists was Jocelyn Keer of Winwood, who turns vintage glass bottles into “upcycled functional bottleware” good for serving food or using as a dresser tray for jewelry. Keer said it was exciting to “be in the mix” with so much human traffic moving past her table.

“It’s important to be seen, to get some good exposure and kind of introduce myself and let people see what I’m doing here,” said Keer.

Many months in the making 

For Lipton, the chance to see the artists – especially the ones that participate annually – was a pleasure.

“Sometimes, that’s the only time you see somebody,” she said.

For the MDC, however, the sight of the crowded streets also represents the fruit of months of work. Lipton noted that it takes “dozens and dozens” of volunteers to keep the event running smoothly, with many working a “tremendous number of hours” between the VIP party on Friday and clean up on Sunday night.

By early Monday morning most signs of the festival were gone – the booths were packed up, Main Street was once again open for traffic and the artists were on their way home. But participating artists and volunteers agreed on one sentiment: they’re already looking forward to 2014.

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