News Column

Mayfair highlights visual arts in 28th year

May 22, 2014

By John J. Moser, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

May 22--Last year, Allentown's Mayfair Festival of the Arts made the most radical changes in its history. After 26 years in the city's Cedar Beach park, buffeted by rain and flooding and barely staying afloat, the festival moved to part of Allentown Fairgrounds and its Agri-Plex building.

Mayfair also broadened its focus from the music-centric event to what organizers say was its original vision: A multi-discipline arts festival focusing just as much on visual, creative and performance art.

So how did it work?

Mayfair Executive Director Arlene Daily says artists loved it.

"The artists were crazy about it, because they had indoor space, which protected their art," Daily says. "I had artists who had given up on Mayfair -- were never going to do Mayfair again because they just had had it with the rain and flooding, and they had artwork destroyed or sat there at a rainy festival when nobody showed up. So they were very happy."

Patrons, at first skeptical, liked it, too, Daily says. Even with an especially cold opening day, attendance -- while off the festival's peak years -- was about equal to recent years at Cedar Beach, Daily says.

And organizers really loved it, because it returned the festival nearer to its mission of highlighting all arts, while giving it more stable footing for long-term success, they say.

So starting Friday, Mayfair will return to the fairgrounds for a second four-day Memorial Day weekend run. And after years of retrenching and shrinking, the festival is in a modest growth mode.

It will have 125 artists in its Artist Market -- up more than 70 percent over last year, more than triple its last year in Cedar Beach, and perhaps the festival's most ever.

There's a new juried art exhibition as well as an expanded installation art in The Pigpen Project in the livestock pens behind the Agri-Plex.

And there's even more diverse music and kids activities.

The festival is even bringing in more greenery and water displays to help revive some of the "park" atmosphere it lost when it left Cedar Beach.

"Bringing that artist market back is awesome, and bringing more of the community, the partners, in to feel like we're all working together and they can feature themselves at Mayfair," Daily says. "I think having a place to profile the arts in our community helps everybody. It's part of our mission statement to build audiences for the arts. It's not just to make Mayfair succeed. "

Here's a look at Mayfair's 28th year:

Location and hours

Mayfair's footprint will largely be the same as last year, with a few tweaks.

The main entrance has moved from across from the Allentown Farmers Market to across from the fairgrounds' infield parking area, which is where most of the people who attend Mayfair park, Daily says.

"We found people were walking up the street and standing there to come in," Daily says. "So now we have our main entry here." There still will be additional entrances off Liberty and Chew streets.

All the food vendors will be moved to the front of the Agri-Plex. Mike Hill, Mayfair board president, says people simply didn't venture around to the sides of the building enough last year.

Round tables also will be set up in the front area for people to eat and rest.

The main stage also will be moved from the gazebo on the south side of the Agri-Plex into a new main tent in the front area. The gazebo's long, narrow configuration meant people were sitting outside it to get close to the stage.

The hours also are slightly different. The fest will start later -- 4 p.m. on Friday and 11 a.m. the other days -- but stay open until 10:30 p.m. on the first three days. "We still want to give people a come-out-for-music-at-nighttime kind of experience," Daily says.

Visual arts

The huge increase in the number of artisans is the direct result of two things, Daily says -- rebuilding relationship with returning artists and casting a broader net for new ones.

Daily, who is in her third year as executive director, says that she started out approaching artist councils and committees and was told, "No, we're done with Mayfair. The hours aren't right, we can't remove our stuff, if it gets wet it's not safe."

"Like any business, you listen to your audience, your patrons," Daily says. "And many of the things they said, [our response was] 'Well, these are easy fixes.' So we started building relationships with artists."

In her second year, Daily started a Mayfair Artist's Council that let artists make decisions, such as launching the indoor artist gallery and Pig Pen project. "I mean, hardly anybody does installation art -- it's such a high level of conceptual art," Daily says. "And when they saw that level of activity, they came last year and they checked it out."

It also helped that so many artists were able to set up inside the Agri-Plex to avoid the elements, she says. This year, 91 artists will be inside (there were 30 last year) and 35 outside.

"Having an indoor show brings a whole different caliber of artists. Last year we recruited some artists who did amazingly well. They showed up skeptical, and they ended up selling really well. And so they started calling their friends."

"I have somebody coming in from Los Angeles," Daily says. "These are people who travel around the world doing art shows rather than within a few miles circumference. Not to say somebody's art is better because of the distance, but you're getting the highest caliber."

There's also a broader offering of visual arts wares -- several glass artists, painters, fiber artists, Daily says.

Mayfair also adjusted its hour requirements. The artist's market opens later Friday so artists don't have to arrive on Thursday, and closes at 7 p.m. when crowds enjoy the nighttime music.

The juried exhibit will feature 42 pieces that Ricardo Viera, Lehigh University's director of art galleries and museum operation, chose from 176 entries nationwide. Viera also chose the winners, which will be announced at a Friday night party for members, sponsors and invited guests.

The Pig Pen more than doubled its number of artists, from about a dozen last year to 27 this year.

Food and drink

There will be 20 food vendors -- about a third less than last year, but a much better variety, Hill says.

There was a big influx of food trucks as there has been in the Valley in general.

The Taza Truck, for example, will offer Egyptian cuisine. Uncle Paul's Stuffed Pretzels and The Wing Ring, with its fried country ribs and wings, will be at the festival.

There's Felix's Tacos; Endless Concessions, which offers items as diverse as chocolate-covered strawberries to cheesesteaks; Frites Belgian style fries; J & J Kettle Korn (a new corn vendor); and Mediterranean Cuisine falafels, hummus and gyros.

Nooner's Wood Fired Pizza brings back an offering missing recently from Mayfair. Salsa N Sprinkles food truck will offer egg and meat sandwiches, New York style hoagies and pulled pork tacos.

Returning favorites include Vince's Cheesesteak, Rose's Concession sausage sandwiches, Bull & Bear restaurant, Asian Grill and Heaven on a Bun.

There also will be a new wine-tasting tent, where local representatives of the American Wine Society will do presentations each day on varieties of wine, such as South American wines and music- and sports-related wines.

"The core that I wanted to have -- the standard -- are wines related to music," Daily says. "We didn't find any wines created by visual artists but there are really cool wines created by musicians."

Beer and wine will also be available for purchase.

Entertainment

Mayfair this year again will have three performance stages, one of which -- Collectors Cafe Stage -- will be inside the Agri-Plex.

After a year's absence, the popular Noche Latina Latin night by La Ola Spanish Radio station WHOL-FM, 99.5 will resume at 7:30 p.m.May 24 on the main outdoor Liberty Stage (the fair's Farmarama stage). Headlining will be Bachata artist Jean Quick, who has a Top 25 Latin radio hit "Can't Find Love."

The number of performances overall is down -- more than 70, including a half dozen dance presentations, compared with 85 last year. But Mayfair sought to make performances by area musicians special.

Allentown Symphony, in its first pairing with Mayfair, will present the Allentown Symphony Chamber players at 8:30 p.m.May 25. Ten musicians, including concertmaster Eliezer Gutman, will perform classical pieces.

Lehigh Valley Music Awards at 7 p.m.May 25 will offer two all-star bands of Lifetime Achievement and 20-year Veteran Award winners that it put together for its 15th anniversary ceremony in March.

Godfrey Daniels will offer an All-Star Night of Folk at 7:30 p.m.May 25. The Pa. Jazz Collective, a three-year-old organization that brought together a network of longtime regional jazz players, will offer an all-star septet of artists from jazz groups in the Poconos, Reading, Scranton, Harrisburg and the Lehigh Valley at 7:15 p.m.May 23.

Lyons Fiddle Festival Revue at 2 p.m.May 25 will offer a sampling of winners from the festival's three age categories, as well as that festival's house band, Lyons music coordinator Keith Brintzenhoff says.

Other special performances include: The Limits, a Lehigh Valley garage band that had its 50th anniversary at the Lehigh Valley Music Awards, performing 4:45 p.m.May 23, and Valley blues harmonica player James Supra collaborating with Cuban vocal act Lillian & Winston, backed by strings and flute, at 9:30 p.m.May 23.

Many other recognizable Lehigh Valley musicians will perform: Dana Gaynor Band, BC Blues Combo, Dina Hall Band, The Large Flowerheads, Billy Bauer Band, Steve Brosky and Jimmy Meyer, Scott Marshall and Marshall Highway, Crazy Hearts and Mama Jama.

There also will be Celtic music, and world music -- Indian, Middle Eastern and Iranian guitar -- as well as the classic rock, folk and country expected from Mayfair.

For kids, the new tented Discovery Stage near the KidSpace area will offer children's performers such as folk singer Dave Fry, dance and theater performances, a Radio Disney interactive presentation and Math Rocks, a presentation by teachers who take rock songs and change the lyrics to teach math.

The park feel

Daily says the one complaint about Mayfair's new location was that it wasn't as beautiful as Cedar Beach Park.

Mayfair officials say they'll do their best to make it more beautiful this year.

"We've actually worked with several landscapers that are going to be working on bringing more greenery ... with an effort to make as beautiful and creative a space as the artwork," Daily says.

A cafÉ area will be in front of the Agri-Plex and there will be a 12-by-12-foot water fountain with trees around it. Shrubbery will be added, and there will even be a waterfall insider the Agri-Plex that will be surrounded by artists.

"Yeah, we can't ever compete with the park," says Daily. The park is still there -- go for a walk in the park, and then come over to Mayfair for all the stuff that's only there once a year."

John.moser@mcall.com

Twitter@ johnjmoser

610-820-6722

MAYFAIR FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS

-- What: Celebration of music, arts, crafts and food with more than 70 performances and more than 145 arts and food vendors.

-- When: 4 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday

-- Where: In and around the Agri-Plex at the Allentown Fairgrounds, 17th and Liberty streets

-- How much: $5 at gate, $4 in advance at http://www.mayfairfestival.org. Pass good for all four days. Free for ages 10 and under, and active, retired or reserve military, with ID.

-- Parking: Free in infield of fairgrounds grandstand. Enter off Liberty Street only.

-- Food and drink: Purchase with tickets in 50-cent increments.

-- Info: http://www.mayfairfestival.org, 610-437-6900

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