Art Festival, Pandemic-Style

Today was Art on the Avenue, usually my favorite neighborhood event of the year.

This year was difficult. I love this art festival and really wanted to go. Most years I volunteer there, and spend the whole day. But we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and I’ve been avoiding crowds. So I felt that attending would not be a good idea. But I was really torn.

In the end, I decided on a compromise. I volunteered last night to help with setup, instead of today during the festival. And in the end I did decide to go to the festival, but with some precautions. I headed over in the morning, before the crowds grew as thick as I knew they would later in the day. I double-masked, stayed for only a short time, and remained mostly outside the festival foot traffic. I was pleased to see that most people wore masks, even though this is an outdoors event.

Art on the Avenue takes place along several blocks of Mt. Vernon Avenue, with booths lining the street, and attendees walking in the street, between the two rows of booths. I decided I would mostly stay out of the street, walking instead on the sidewalk along the backs of the booths, where few people were.

I knew where the festival store’s booth would be set up, and entered the street at that block, went straight to the booth for a t-shirt and program, and then headed back outside the festival to look at the program. I determined that there was one artist whose work I particularly wanted to see. So I walked along the sidewalk again, not the street, until I reached the right area, and then went straight to that booth. I even bought a painting!

That was it. I cut back over to the sidewalk and continued walking past the festival, before heading home.

The weather was perfect, but the festival was not without its problems this year. In fact, there was a major problem that really was disastrous for some businesses. Some problem with a transformer caused a power outage that lasted much of the day in a large part of the neighborhood. The Avenue is a commercial district filled with mostly locally owned businesses, all of whom have been struggling since covid began. And for many of them, Art on the Avenue is the single most lucrative day of the year. But this year, some of those shops and restaurants had to remain closed, while thousands of people walked by their darkened windows. It must be heartbreaking for those business owners, who have been through so much since March 2020.

I didn’t even know that when I was there this morning. I wasn’t there long enough to try to buy a meal, and I stayed a block south of the area that was still out of power at the time.

Later in the day, in the final hour of the event, my husband asked if I wanted to take a walk. I suggested we go back over to the festival, now that I knew it would be much less crowded, and do the same thing as before, staying off the street when possible and only venturing onto it if there was a specific booth we wanted to see. We bought a little hummingbird print and some cards, and said hi to a few friends.

This time we went a few blocks farther north of where I’d been in the morning, and we saw the power company trucks working on the problem (they must have had to displace some of the artist booths, which I hope were relocated). And we noticed restaurants with signs up saying they were closed because they had no electricity. How sad. We’ve decided to make a point of getting takeout from one of them tomorrow.

Inexplicable power outage aside, I didn’t have nearly as much fun as I usually do at Art on the Avenue. I always love strolling the Avenue, popping into every booth, speaking with the artists, and admiring their work. I hated not feeling that I could take my time and see it all. And I felt bad about not volunteering today. But I’m glad I was able to buy some art and help support some of the artists in our region.

There’s a pandemic on, and my abbreviated, as-distanced-as-I-could-make-it visit was as far as I was willing to go. Even so, I still wonder if I should have just stayed home.

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