YOUNGSTOWN — When the Youngstown State University Summer Festival of the Arts returns this summer, it's heading downtown to a new location.
This year’s festival is July 17 and 18 and will take place at the new Wean Foundation Park.
YSU President Jim Tressel said the university is excited to bring the nationally recognized annual arts festival to the new community park along the Mahoning River.
“We hope this move will help further grow the festival and will also help further introduce the community to this beautiful new downtown recreational area,” Tressel said.
The event, started in 1999, normally attracts more than 80 artists and 15,000 visitors annually, organizers said. However, it was canceled last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lori A. Factor, director of Summer Festival of the Arts, said many performing artists and fine artists have struggled throughout the pandemic to make a living or find venues that were safe to perform.
“We want to be a leader in bringing opportunities to them,” Factor said.
Factor said the festival was moved to the park to continue collaboration with the city and to have a larger space for activities. As always, admission is free.
The Raymond John Wean Foundation Park, a community complex with more than 20 acres of recreational green space and walking paths, is located along the Mahoning River at the Market Street bridge in downtown Youngstown. The complex includes the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and the Huntington Bank Community Alley underneath the Market Street bridge.
Factor said the festival will have a variety of activities while also keeping what people know and love about the festival, including a range of performing artists, children’s activities and the participation of area ethnic, artistic and cultural institutions.
The festival will remain a juried arts event, meaning that artists must apply first and then be evaluated before being accepted.
Eric Ryan, president of JAC management group, said when planning the event, organizers wanted to find a way to bring the community together through arts and culture and diversity and inclusion.
“It’s amazing that this event encapsulates all of that,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he is looking forward to bringing people together at Wean Park for the festival, especially after everyone has been hit so hard by the pandemic.
Ryan said the park is a great space for the festival since it is outdoors and has so much space for social distancing. He said the festival will follow the COVID-19 guidelines that are in place during the time of the festival in July.
The arts festival is also working the Youngstown City Health Department to enforce any COVID-19 safety protocols.
Councilman Julius Oliver, 1st ward, said after a year of the pandemic, moving the festival to Wean Park is a great opportunity to bring the community together again.
He said it’s also another great way to integrate YSU into the city and have people see what the university has to offer Youngstown.
“This is where community happens so everybody can get together and get to know each other,’” Oliver said.
Oliver said people will be able to express themselves through the arts again. He encouraged people to bring their friends and family to enjoy the festival and see what Wean Park has to offer the city.
“We know that arts basically spurs on more culture, and more culture is what we need here in Youngstown,” Oliver said.
Tressel said YSU was not physically big enough of an area to be able to grow the festival beyond the size it has been in past years.
Wean Park gives the festival the opportunity to have the same art opportunities that people enjoyed in the past but also the ability to spread out much wider than could be done in the center of YSU campus, he said.
“We won't be totally back to normal in July so this just makes perfect sense to have it nice and spread out,” Tressel said. “New is kind of exciting sometimes.”