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Hoyt Arts & Education brings Downtown New Castle, Pennsylvania’s Summer to a close with their 4th Annual Arts on the Riverwalk Festival this Saturday, September 9th.  Erie Arts & Culture recently talked with Hoyt Arts & Education Executive Director, Kimberly Koller-Jones and Dance Artist Shari Mastalski, who will lead a senior residency. Kim will give us an overview of the entire event before Shari goes into detail about her residency. Keep reading to find out if you'd like to make this festival a part of your weekend.


Kim, what can you tell us about the origins of the festival?

Kim: Arts on the Riverwalk began in 2014 as a partnership between Arts & Education at the Hoyt and the Lawrence County Tourist Promotion Agency to rebrand the New Castle Fireworks Festival as a cultural event. Over the course of three years, we successfully added an artist’s market, staged and street performance, art competitions, and interactive activities to the traditional food, fireworks, and fun.  Together the New Castle Fireworks Festival featuring Arts on the Riverwalk attracted more than 10,000 visitors annually.  This year, however, Arts on the Riverwalk is establishing itself as an independent event in September rather than July, so we would consider it a success at 5,000 attendees. However, the police force is bracing for 10,000-15,000. 


What aspects are you most excited about?

Kim: Sheesh!  There are so many things to choose from!

I’d say at the top of my list are the food trucks!  The selection of fare goes well beyond the traditional burgers and fries to include fresh chopped salads, fruit bowls, specialty wraps, smoked brisket, prime rib, quesadillas, chicken & waffles and so much more!  There are gourmet donuts and funnel cakes for the sweet tooth, as well as apple dumplings and elephant ears to sweeten your palate. 

Then there is the tremendous line up of talent on five stages throughout the festival grounds.  Groups like Coleville, US4Now, the Reunion Band, Harmony Hot Haus, Free Wheelin’, James Tobin and Tone Float.    Many of these performers are competing for the People’s Choice award, a $500 prize determined by the public vote.  Similarly, the annual juried art show in The Riverplex is offering $100 prize to the work receiving the most likes on our online gallery.

I’m also really looking forward to seeing Darrean Brown, a street chalk artist from Ohio, and the dedication of the City of New Castle’s first public artwork, a mural in the stairwell of the Mercer Street Parking Garage by Pittsburgh Artist Gregg Valley.  We intend to dedicate a new public work each year.


What’s different about this year’s festival than the other years?

Kim: While it posed plenty of challenges, our independence allowed us to add and subtract the activities we felt would build a strong and supportive audience for the arts.  So you won’t find any bouncy houses, train rides or carnival games. Instead, we’ve replaced them with make-and-take activities for all ages, free workshops, demonstrations, tie dye, a chalk art competition, giant bubble-making and lots and lots of entertainment.  Slippery Rock University co-sponsored the festival’s first Short Film & Video competition which will be screening in the Warner Film Center.  And Erie Arts & Culture funded a senior residency, Fish Stories,  that will culminate with an exhibit and performance at the event.


What remains the same?

Kim: We’ve retained the foundation of our first few years in the Artist’s Market, staged and street performance, local art competition, and children’s activities.  We’ve just built from them to create a larger experience for all ages.  


If someone could only spend two hours at the festival, what would you recommend they do?

Kim: That’s a tough one.  There’s so much to do!  If you only had two hours to spare, I might head down at 7 pm.  You can shop the market, grab a bite and make-and-take a craft before the activities close at 8 pm.  There’s time to catch the last concert on the Main Stage (8-9 pm) followed by Pyrotechnico fireworks at 9 pm!


Shari, how did you get the opportunity to participate in the festival?

Shari: As a rostered teaching artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, I was looking for a summer project, hoping to work with Kimberly Koller-Jones and Arts and Education at the Hoyt.  Kim had an idea to connect with Challenges, Options in Aging, while Holly Nowak from Erie Arts and Culture also supported this collaboration.  Then the ideas began to emerge.  Arts on the Riverwalk led us to focus on the river and what being a river town means to the residents.  And where there is a river, there are fish, so it seemed appropriate to bring the river into the dance, and fish make great art.  We could have fish puppets to move with.  And story-telling is such fun because everyone has a story to tell.  Kim came up with the "fish tale" idea out of that progression.  Tales that are passed down through generations can grow bigger in the telling and gain universal significance.  I love combining stories and movement, so I call my art form Story-Dancing.  The program with the Senior Citizens at Challenges includes a story-telling component, a creative dance component, and a visual arts component.  As Kim said, who better to tell the stories of a community than its elders?  Younger people have much to learn through these festive, sometimes exaggerated stories of days gone by.  There are lessons and big ideas to be found.  It's a way to connect generations together.


Why did you choose this festival?

Shari: Arts and Education at the Hoyt under the direction of Kimberly Koller-Jones always does a magnificent job with every project.  I would be part of this festival even if I weren’t doing the residency because it is about transforming lives and communities through the arts.  People can change their brains and how they interact in the world.  The world can be a better place as people recognize their power to shape the space through art and creative living.


What can you tell me about your culminating event?

Shari: The culminating event for the Challenges participants is multi-faceted.  The art will be displayed in the common areas of the Riverplex.  Interspersed will be QR codes to access stories collected on video by Tom Stoops.  The dance group has a presentation around 6:00 on the river walk using the props made in the art class in addition to a surprise you will see if you come.  The surprise has something to do with a collaboration with Slippery Rock University Dance Professor, Jennifer Keller, and her Rock Dance Troupe.  SRU Professor, Melissa Teodoro, and her Afro-Columbian Dance Troupe will also be part of this wonderful event.  The storytellers will join a Wing and a Prayer Pittsburgh InterPlayers with some interactive playful storytelling in the Confluence at 6:30.


Who can benefit from participating?

Shari: Everyone who participates will benefit from the wisdom we share through our stories.  Together we are choosing to make the world a better place.  Together we are brilliant!  Through the classes offered for eight weeks at Challenges, people have built friendships and come to know personal histories as they intersect with our community history.  We have looked for big ideas, universal truths, and lessons learned as we have playfully explored our stories through words and movement.  Plato says, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."


How does it tie in with the rest of the festival?

Shari: The Arts on the Riverwalk celebrates all the arts as powerful enrichment for all.  There is something for everyone. The group from Challenges have taken on the challenge of boldly stepping onto the stage to offer their valuable input for the community through stories from the past and vision for the future.


Thank you, Shari and Kim, for taking the time to talk with us! We're looking forward to the festival.

The mission of Erie Arts & Culture is to strengthen the vibrancy and vitality of the Erie Region and enrich the lives of our people through the advancement of arts and culture.
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