By 2017, ArtsQuest had such success with its upstart Urban Street Art Festival — a festival around its Banana Factory arts center to showcase visual art that after just one year morphed into the SouthSide Arts Festival — that it saw an opportunity.
It could expand that festival into something it had long considered: a smaller version of the massive South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, that would present music throughout South Side Bethlehem to highlighting the area’s businesses and restaurants as people walk the streets from one event to another.
And SouthSide Arts & Music Festival began.
But ArtsQuest found out changing peoples’ expectations was harder than expected.
“What we came to realize really quickly is that people are used to ArtsQuest offering a music festival in a different format” and a walking festival that took people from venue to venue with a ticketed wristband “really wasn’t something people were looking for,” says Stacie Brennan, ArtsQuest’s senior director of visual arts education.
So when SouthSide Arts & Music Fest returns Friday and Saturday, it will be closer to the original.
“We transitioned away from a larger footprint and investment … to kind of pull everything back to where it started, which is the Banana Factory and locating everything here, so that it was a more convenient to kind of explore all the offerings in one place,” Brennan says.
The festival will again have an emphasis on visual art: displays of works by the Banana Factory’s resident artists and others from the area; more than two dozen arts activities over the two days (just seven of which will carry a fee); art lectures and demonstrations; and a skateboard design competition.
There will be workshops focused on urban printmaking, glassblowing, weaving, yoga and more. Local artists and vendors also will sell crafts and artworks.
Opening ceremonies will be 6-9 p.m. Friday, with awards for the Compendium Juried Exhibition, which highlights the Lehigh Valley’s thriving artistic community.
Highlights of the festival will be a virtual reality experience that adapts traditional art into virtual worlds to create a mixed reality, and the unveiling of a community mural created by internationally renowned German artist Pau Quintanajournet, and a community art and photo swap.
Philadelphia artist Martha Rich also will do a large-scale installation on a giant wall at ArtsQuest Center, adding local colloquialisms and sayings “in this sort of pop-art way,” then will have a corresponding exhibition at the Banana Factory, where there will be a community art project as part of that exhibition, to which people can add during its month-and-a-half length.
She says the festival will use the entire Banana Factory building — its eight classrooms, plus almost all its resident artists showcasing their studio spaces. It also will spill out into the building’s parking lot, for hip-hop and breakdance competitions, and a skateboard tricks competition.
“The Urban Street Art Festival, which this began as, really was intended to get people in and throughout the building,” Brennan says, and that’s still the idea.
The virtual reality experience, scheduled 1:30-5:30 p.m. Saturday, is a partnership with Pollin Consolidated, the same company that brought the headphone disco experience to Musikfest. Brennan says the process takes resident artists’ two-dimensional paintings and divides them into multiple layers to create a three-dimensional reality.
Visitors wear virtual reality goggles “to literally walk through these worlds,” Brennan says. Then, using an online platform, people can actually add to the paintings or add to those worlds, “so they’re kind of creating as they move through this virtual space.”
“We’re super excited about that,” Brennan says. “It is an opportunity to engage a new audience, as well as a younger audience, in art, and it’s really a way to kind of interact with the characters or environment that most artists create on a two-dimensional canvas, but in a totally different way.”
Quintanajournet’s mural also is expected to be a draw, Brennan says. She says she first saw the artist — who originally is from Chile but grew up in Germany — in Asbury Park, N.J., and “we had really just loved her aesthetic and approach to a holistic lifestyle — mind, body and spirit, she kind of includes all that.”
That approach also connected with Cafe The Lodge, a South Bethlehem eatery that gives employment opportunity to those with mental health issues. “It really resonated with the program director there — just in terms of their individual approach to wellness and healing with the mental health services that they offer,” Brennan said. “He really thought it was a great fit.”
The 35-by-43 1/2-foot mural on the side of Cafe The Lodge, at 427 E. 4th St., was started with an open house forum where Quintanajournet got community feedback and input. The mural is expected to take 10 days, and the artist invites the community to come speak with her as she works.