It gets bigger every year.
The West Park Arts Festival at 42nd Street and Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia was the destination Saturday for hundreds of people who enjoyed live entertainment, food and dozens of vendors peddling their products.
Everywhere the eyes turned on the summer-like day, there was activity — painting, dancing, eating, comic book heroes and music. Especially funk.
“This year we are very excited because this is our very first Funkfest, so we have a lineup of legendary funk performers including Philly’s own Breakwater,” said Niesha Kennedy, public relations manager for the event.
“We also have plenty of activities on our dance stage, we have the Black comic book corner, we’ll have live Black comic book heroes, and we have the African American Museum with the selfie station, and just being beautiful in your own skin with your hair, so I am just excited for everyone to come out. We have something for everyone from the baby to the grandmom,” Kennedy said.
Pulling together the wide variety of vendors and performers was no easy task, Kennedy said.
“It was very hard. We are mostly a volunteer-driven organization so it’s a big job for everyone to just kind of pitch in their extra time to help us put on such a great event,” she said.
Multiple organizations joined in to lend a hand, including the West Park Cultural Center, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, the Mural Arts of Philadelphia and 30 other nonprofit organizations, Kennedy said.
Author J. Hawki made the trip from Baltimore to attend the festival and sell copies of her books, “Elephants and Chopping Blocks Retain Their Natural Color” and “Catch an Elephant by the Tail,” psychological thrillers about a detective on the trail of a serial killer.
“It’s my first time coming to this lovely festival and I’m so glad I did,” Hawki said. “The crowd is lovely, the venue is lovely, the food smells good and everybody is friendly.”
Hawki said she was gratified to see the crowd of people mingling and enjoying one another’s company.
“It’s one of the things that makes my heart feel good because I like to see everyone represented and this is very exciting,” she said.
The West Park Arts Festival is held every year on the second Saturday in June. Michael Burch, who chairs the festival’s board, said organizing such an event can be challenging.
“It’s very hectic but very worthwhile. ... We want to keep things versatile and we want to keep things happening,” he said.
“We have more people here than ever before because Parkside is going through a transition. We’re open for everyone,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that should be going on throughout the city, but I’m really pleased that it is happening here in Parkside after what I consider years of neglect. This neighborhood is blossoming. It’s open for business.”
Councilwoman-elect Jannie Gauthier said the Arts Fest is one of her favorite events of the year. “I love that it’s a festival that brings together and supports local artists and I love that it’s a festival that activates the park and activates West Park,” she said.
The Arts Fest was previously held at the nearby School of the Future, but the organizers moved it outdoors to emphasize the use of the park and create greater exposure for local residents.
“Every year it seems to be getting bigger and bigger,” said Jennifer Mahar, senior director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, a sponsor of the festival. “I think more people are excited to come into the park.”