ELYRIA — The Garford Arts Fest invited area residents to experience what nightlife in Elyria could be, courtesy of several city groups coming together to provide music, art and food to the 1,000-plus attendees.
From 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday, the event took over Kerstetter Way and Depot Street — the alleyway between Kerstetter Way and Washington Avenue — filling the stretch with food trucks, vendors, music and art. Named for the Elyria industrialist, inventor and politician Arthur Lovett Garford, who lived in the city from 1858 to 1933, the night brought a do-it-yourself attitude to the street, with 18 musical acts split between Blank Slate at 2 Kerstetter Way and the city-sponsored Jumpstart Stage.
Steve Riggle, volunteer and Blank Slate board member, said the event was a collaboration between Blank Slate, Elyria Arts Council, Invest Elyria and others in an attempt to bring the city’s 2015 Jumpstart Elyria plan to life.
“There’s literally an image in that plan where they’ve got the road blocked off and they’ve got people down here and picnic tables and that’s in a city paid-for plan,” Riggle said. “So that’s one of the biggest reasons, but also we wanted to separate ourself from (Ely) Square and typical events in Elyria, we want to highlight the falls … and this is all going to light up at night and it’s going to be beautiful.”
About four months in the making, the event focused on creating a family-oriented but also millennial-friendly festival in the city.
“I just turned 30 years old, and I want some fun things going on in the city I call home,” Riggle said. “I want there to be fun for people my age, people younger than me. … If you want to go out in Elyria, there’s not a lot of options, there’s not much nightlife and really a lot of people are scared to come down here … Things have really changed; things have improved.”
Andrea Repko, another organizer with the Garford Arts Fest Council, agreed.
“We’ve interacted with people of all ages — and I think showing that people our age, which is (in the) 20, 30 area — that we are here, we want to be recognized for the work that we do in the city and not ignored,” she said. “(There) are festivities that happen for the elderly and small children but not too much in between that, so I think that this really highlights what all the different vendors, artists, talent in this area have to offer.”
Art dotted the bridge supports across Kerstetter Way, along with roughly 60 pieces displayed on Depot Street, curated by Sam Davis, of Elyria. She said many of the artists were friends of the organizers, but hopes as the event continues that the network of artists showing at the festival will grow.
“Elyria, honestly it used to be a very flourishing town,” she said. “And it’s a huge town, and there’s not many things attracting people right now. And I feel like this is the first thing in a while that’s done that, and we’re trying to get back to that state, but we’re trying to bring the art scene toward us. But we’re definitely trying to bring a more creative scene into Elyria and try and bring back the economy that way.”
Davis has been advertising the event where she works, at Dunkin Donuts on North Abbe Road, prompting coworker Jillian Cornish, of Elyria, to come to the event.
Cornish said she and other colleagues are proud of Davis for her involvement in the festival, something she calls “a beautiful thing.”
“I think that’s its amazing, and especially if you can get people who aren’t necessarily doing just art, but artistic things … anything that’s interesting and creative and we can kind of make it an amalgamation,” Cornish said. “Especially when you have music — like they have good music in the buildings, they have music (at the Jumpstart Stage). … The more creative people into it, the more that it will grow because people have creative friends — and that’s just the great thing about people who have this interest is they seek out other people with that interest.”
Performer Fayaven “Lefreshy” Barbee Jr., of Elyria, said it was “awesome” to see the festival along Kerstetter Way and enjoyed the “aesthetically pleasing” location along the falls. A frequent performer at Blank Slate, he was excited to play another hometown show that evening.
“I love playing here,” he said. “I’m always playing shows at Blank Slate … I just know that they’re always, always, always about the community, and that’s something I want to always give back to, to the community. Music changed my life and my perception of this city, so if I can do that for someone else, awesome, I love it.”
Anne Jesse, chairperson and children’s program director of the Elyria Arts Council, said she was sure the event would have a crowd, and expected dancing at the Jumpstart Stage once the sun went down.
“I think it’s awesome that there’s this many people down here interested in what’s going on in Elyria,” she said. “Everybody seems to be participating, having a good time, enjoying the music.”
For Riggle and other organizers, they hope the Garford Arts Fest will be an annual event, but also prompt residents to enjoy the area outside of organized programs.
“We want to see people on the street all the time, we don’t want this to have to be once a year, and we want to see people downtown having a good time,” Riggle said. “If not everyday, at least on the weekends. … That’s really what all this is about, getting people out in the community, getting people working together.”