“We have some very unusual things this year that I’m very excited about,” says Reed, who organizes the festival under the umbrella of the Downtown Committee. “There are highly modern floor clocks that are about four or five feet high from Douglas Durkee of Burlington, Ky. They’re really unusual, made of all kinds of things. Another gentleman, Ying Zhou of Toronto, does handmade brushes: dusting brushes, paint brushes, all kinds. I’m thrilled to be able to bring such unusual crafts to Syracuse.”
Over its three decades, the festival has branched out from its core around Columbus Circle until it now radiates along the 200 and 300 blocks of East Onondaga Street and the 300 block of East Jefferson Street. This year, there are 130 exhibitor spaces; when Reed started organizing the event in 1979, there were 70. While it takes Reed a solid year to plan the event, figuring out just who will be exhibiting their wares isn’t nearly so time-consuming.
The unusual suspects: Contemporary grandfather clocks, mirrors and tables made out of exotic woods, metals and mirrors, and brushes made of fox hair, leather and driftwood bring ingenuity to the always-interesting Syracuse Arts & Crafts Festival.
“In April the jury is invited to review all the applications,” Reed explains. “Exhibitors are selected based on the quality of their work and we get applications from all over the country. The deadline for applying to the show is March, and acceptance letters are sent in April. We usually range about 25 states represented.”
And while you would think that Reed directs the jury to limit the number of jewelers, kite makers or painters, that’s not the case. “We do not set quotas in any category,” she says. “Generally, they’re selected based on quality but we try to look at work that appeals to many different demographics. Good art doesn’t have to be expensive. We want to present something for every size pocketbook.”
There is more to the Syracuse Arts & Crafts Festival than, well, arts and crafts. Food and live entertainment are part of the festivities, as well as the occasional wedding that spills into Columbus Circle from the adjacent Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “There are always weddings,” Reed says with a chuckle. “We try to assure the wedding party that the festival makes their wedding all the more festive.”
As the festival has grown over the years, the entertainment has evolved as well. “The focus used to be staged entertainment, but we decided that we’d rather have the entertainment be more ambient, more visual,” Reed notes. “So we went with dance groups on the street instead of rock bands on stage. Our entertainment coordinator is Dan Ward, and he’s done a great job with it.”
Another big change Reed has experienced with the festival is that it is no longer the only show in town. “In the early days, we were the only festival downtown. There wasn’t anything else of this size or caliber when I first started. In those days, everybody came to the event, it seemed. But since then, with the development of Clinton Square, there is a festival almost every weekend. People have to be selective about the events they come to. This one, I like to say, is a shopping event. It appeals to people who may not necessarily be interested in music. It’s a lovely location, with the Court House and the Cathedral, and admission is free.”
The Syracuse Arts & Crafts Festival gets under way Friday, July 24, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and continues Saturday, July 25, and Sunday, July 26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.