This weekend, when the 56th Allentown Art Festival and 16th Allen West Festival kick off in Buffalo’s artiest neighborhood, festivalgoers will have more space than ever to roam through artists’ offerings.
Because of a deluge of new applicants, the Allen West Festival will extend from Elmwood and Allen streets and along Wadsworth Street all the way to Symphony Circle near Kleinhans Music Hall.
Allen West founder Jonathan White said that the festival’s expansion is a way to keep up with increasing demand from regional artists who want in on the action without having to change the open-access nature of the festival.
“We had an influx of applications from artists who very much wanted to be part of the show and we were unable to accommodate them all on the Allen Street strip,” said White, a vice president of the Allentown Association, which organizes the festival.
“It’s something we had resisted doing in the past because we frankly felt maybe it pushed them a little bit off the beaten path,” he added. “We looked at the interest and we decided that we would let the artists know that it was available to them. So artists didn’t feel like we were sidelining them, we reduced the admission fee slightly for the Wadsworth side.”
Unlike the much larger Allentown Art Festival, which draws hundreds of thousands annually, Allen West isn’t adjudicated. That means that without expanding, festival organizers would have had to institute a judging system.
The festival began in 1998 as a way to help repair the reputation of the west side of Allentown, then a kind of gritty no-man’s land playing unwitting host to purveyors of cheap sunglasses and patchouli oil during Allentown Art Festival weekend.
“That section of Allen Street was sort of the wild west,” White said. Before launching the Allen West Festival, he called the Allentown Village Society – organizers of the Allentown Art Festival – to ask their opinion.
“They were very supportive of reducing the danger in that block and cleaning up that block,” he said.
The expanded Allen West Festival is part of the Allentown Association’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration, which will also include a special “First Fridays” exhibition in the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site from Aug. 2-4 and a gala slated for Sept. 28 in the 20th Century Club.
The Allentown Art Festival, which grew from a small neighborhood art exhibition launched by Allentown business owners in 1958 into one of the most popular art events in the northeast, will remain largely unchanged from past incarnations. This year’s event will feature more than 400 exhibitors whose booths stretch along Delaware Avenue from North to West Tupper streets and into the surrounding neighborhood.
What: Allentown Art Festival and Allen West Festival
When: Both festivals are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Allentown Art Festival runs on Delaware Avenue between West Tupper and North streets; Allen Street between Elmwood Avenue and Franklin Street; Franklin Street between Allen and Virginia streets. The Allen West Festival takes place along Allen and Wadsworth streets between Elmwood Avenue and Symphony Circle.
Info: 881-4269 or www.allentownartfestival.com