GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – In a typical year, there’s a weekend in June when City Park comes alive with over 150 vendors, artisans and more.
It wasn’t in June this time, but last weekend, the occasion came around again at last. And be they woodworker or candle-maker, every artist who came to the park outside Crandall Public Library was happy to be back for the return of the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC) Summer Arts Festival.
The host of artists outside downtown over the weekend was just under 90, a significant drop from before the pandemic, but LARAC Executive Director Candice Frye said it was a far cry from a quiet year; something she saw evidence of firsthand.
“We heard from the majority of artists that this was the best year they’ve had with LARAC,” Frye said.
Having fewer artists showing everything from soap to pottery meant that every artist present for the weekend had more room to be seen, with fewer people getting lost amid the crowd. The festival takes up all of City Park.
The difference was something Frye saw firsthand.
“Walking myself, I realized I wasn’t as overwhelmed with booth after booth after booth. You could really take in what you were seeing.”
One of those booths was Rachel’s Spice Co., stationed at a table right in front of the library.
Owner Rachel Dutra had been worried about enough word getting out about the festival’s dates having moved. The weekend itself got off to a hot start.
“Maybe not as many people on Saturday, but Sunday was great,” Dutra said. “People seemed really happy to be out.”
Dutra operates her business nearby on Warren Street, at the former home of East End Eatery, which her family owned previously.
Family connection is something that makes LARAC special for her to attend, as she has a sister who’s an artist. And when it comes to feeling at home among the arts, Dutra herself feels the same.
“It’s not even about selling stuff,” she said. “It’s about going out and saying hello to the people who come out. I mean, it’s local; these are my people.”
Concerns in the air
Last year, LARAC wasn’t able to hold its arts festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the arts council created a location list for a remote festival, where visitors could go around and see artisans at their own studios.
But it wasn’t quite the same.
“It felt like a directory,” said Frye. “We couldn’t find excitement without being with people.”
That virtual option last year was a fallback, after LARAC put together a comprehensive plan for how to hold a spaced-out, socially distanced festival; plans the council was ultimately unable to use, as restrictions weren’t lifted in time for a large outdoor event in early June.
This last weekend, those plans were finally able to manifest. That lower number of vendors meant more space between them, and more open space for customers to wait.
The city of Glens Falls was in the conversation, making sure things were COVID-safe enough to be welcoming to those who felt safe to attend an outdoor gathering. City Tourism and Business Development Director Amy Collins had good things to say about how that plan went into action.
“Candice and her team are like a well-oiled machine,” Collins said.
The city worked with Warren County and the Glens Falls Fire Department to make sure washing stations and hand sanitizer were readily available across City Park.
Collins said those measures were taken with the knowledge that many are still unsure whether they’re ready to visit an event with so many people gathering in one place. It’s something she’s already heard around Take-a-Bite, the weekly food festival on Wednesday nights on Glen Street.
“Some people are coming out, others are still not, so you want to appeal.”
Planning those COVID precautions also meant keeping an eye on the case numbers, which have risen significantly in Warren County between early July and now. Collins said that just meant taking precautions even more seriously.
Collins also pointed out that the change from June to August had its own complications for city municipal planning. The Glens Falls Department of Public Works plans maintenance and road pavings in August and September, and Maple Street alongside City Park was being paved just last week.
“For them to stop and help out, get everything done and still be inviting and hospitable, really speaks to (the DPW) as well,” Collins said.
Always more art to share
Coronavirus aside, Collins echoed what artists told Frye about how well they did.
“It was crowded.”
The city responded well to knowing the festival was coming to town, too. The nearby Church of the Messiah, just up Glen Street from City Park, tied in their annual strawberry festival with LARAC’s festivities.
The two are practically neighbors, with LARAC’s offices tucked in the back corner of City Park.
One positive returning festival is great, and Frye was happy to report that she and her staff were taking a few days off planning after the success of the Summer Arts Fest. But there’s always more to do.
When she thinks about what next year’s summer festival might look like, Frye returns again to how many artists thrived with more individual promotion and more space on either side of them; more room to be noticed.
“They were seen more,” Frye said. “We used to go real big, and this year we went really small, and maybe there’s a middle ground.”
Once summer is gone, but before it returns again, Frye is also hoping to pull off the return of LARAC’s fall arts festival, usually aimed as a chance for some holiday shopping in the local arts community. Given the time of year, it’s usually held indoors.
There’s no location or dates to be announced for that festival yet. The hope is to hold it in November or December, but with coronavirus numbers still fluctuating, much remains up in the air.
“After things went well at this event, the artists are raring to go, and we’re hoping they can.”
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