When it comes to festivals in Buffalo, there is one that stands out due to its longevity and its massive appeal. It is estimated that upwards of 300,000 people attend this festival from year to year.
With that in mind, I decided to reach out to Rita Harrington-Lippman, President of the Allentown Art Festival. Rita was happy to talk about the festival, and how she came to be president. It turns out that Rita is not even from Buffalo – she’s from Boston, Mass. But she fell for a Buffalo guy, and that led her to visiting the Allentown Art Festival for the first time. She told me that the festival was like nothing that she had ever seen, not even in Boston. It was one of the reasons that she fell in love with this city.
After moving to Buffalo, her fondness for the festival grew, and eventually she ran into a woman who was connected with the event who helped her to navigate the channels. “I had never seen anything like the festival before,” said Rita. “I was a pastry chef in Boston, and remained a pastry chef when I moved to Buffalo. I didn’t have any direct experience with managing festivals. After asking if I could get involved, I started doing some food service for the members. From there, I began to process artist applications. It was a learning experience and it blossomed from there.”
According to Rita, the festival, now in its 62nd year, has been going through some positive transformations in recent years, with the addition of roaming musicians and live music (be sure to stop by the Wilcox Mansion – 641 Delaware). “We want to keep the show relevant and different,” Rita told me. “People come back each year to see what is new, but they also want to find their favorite artists. It can be tough to balance that – one of my personal favorite artists was at the show for 30 years, and then all of a sudden decided to retire. We’re always looking for new artists, and our hope is that more local artists apply to get in. There is no favoritism – it’s a juried process – the judges are local artists and professors. They don’t know who the applicants are, or where they are from… they look at the slides and decide purely on the quality of the art. We’re also looking for people from the local community to become members of the festival – it’s always nice to have an infusion of new blood within the organization. It’s so much fun being a part of it – we work so hard because we want the residents of Allentown to appreciate us being here, and we want visitors to enjoy the two day festival.”
Throughout the course of the festival, Rita spends most of her time visiting the artists, to make sure that all of their needs are being met. Rita told me that she’s very happy that that the City made a special effort this year, to open up the sidewalks on both sides of Allen Street, leading from Main Street into the festival – this is the area that is currently undergoing street infrastructure improvements. Eventually, these improvements will lead to an even better festival experience for everyone, including the businesses, the artists, the visitors, and the residents.
Hopefully you’re planning on visiting this marvelous Buffalo-esque festival this weekend. The weather looks great, and the artists are awaiting your arrival!
Saturday, June 8 to Sunday, June 9 | 10am to 6pm