This year was a big first for the festival. Formerly known as the Lehigh Avenue Arts Festival, Portside's biggest student scholarship fundraiser is now in it's 8th year--- and the attending numbers were far too high to hold the festival in it's old location on Lehigh Ave. As the early morning clouds broke and the sun began to shine down on Penn Treaty, it was clear that this was the beginning of a new era for Portside and for the Arts Fest. By the start of the festival at noon, there were already crowds of people gathered to check out the over 40 vendors, art activities, and music.
Kids in attendance had some unique opportunities to try out a number of activity tables, where they could make their own necklaces and bracelets, learn tie dye techniques, screenprint their own tote bags, and even create their own unique spin art on vintage vinyl records. Smiles abounded as parents and children alike discovered some of these fun artistic activities, possibly for the first time, together.
Four facepainting stations set up in the park were hugely popular, and the volunteer painters sat for hours at a time, skillfully transforming happy kids into happy spider men, tigers, octopi, and many other colorful characters and animals. A slot-car circuit track set up in the center of the field attracted a lot of attention as well-- it offered a nice change of pace for those who had already participated at the arts tables.
Community festivals like this one are invaluable in a city where sometimes, a sense of community can get lost in the shuffle. One of the festival's objectives-- to raise money for Portside's Student Scholarship fund-- went hand-in-hand with another objective; to raise awareness of Portside Arts Center and their extremely affordable art and music instruction. It has long been researched and observed that in places where arts and music education programs are mandatory (countries like Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands), students rank consistently among the highest for math and science test scores. Not only that, but appreciation of the arts promotes creativity, social development, personality adjustment, and self-worth. A lack of funding for these programs in school's in Philadelphia would be all the more alarming if not for the arts organizations like Portside Arts Center that understand and believe in these facts.
If this year was any indication, Portside Arts Center is poised to make an even bigger impact when the festival returns next year at Penn Treaty Park.