45th Annual Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival
BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
The 45th Annual Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival will take place July 4-7 at Twin Lakes Park. The Park is located in Hempfield and Unity Townships near Greensburg, just minutes from Westmoreland Mall.
The hours for this year’s festival are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Diane Shrader, executive director of Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival, said this festival spans eight acres of land, and there is something around every corner for festival-goers to see and do.
“We have live and strolling entertainment, two war encampments, over forty food booths, musicians on four different stages and vendors from across the United States,” Shrader said.
Approximately 125,000 people attend the festival over its four-day span.
“I encourage people to come every day because every day will offer a different experience,” she said.
Shrader and her fellow organizers strive to give festival-goers myriad opportunities to enjoy visual and live art; traditional and fine crafts; cultural heritage activities; ethnic foods and educational experiences. All events and activities that are sponsored by Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival are free of charge.
“The free admission and many free activities we offer means a lot to people,” Shrader said. “This festival is perfect for families.”
At the festival, children can enjoy face painting, balloon art and, on Sunday, meet Spiny, a life-sized dinosaur who will be making an appearance courtesy of The Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Representatives from Carnegie Museum of Natural History will also offer programming for children every day of the festival.
Bands and musicians will entertain on these four separate stages: Island, Hillside, Lake and Laurel. The complete stage schedule is available online. There are also acts suitable for children, such as Janie Wilcox’s Children’s Sing-a-Long.
“There will be music here for everyone—rock, country, polka, reggae and even local up-and-coming artists,” Shrader said.
One stage, Hillside Stage, caters specifically to up-and-coming artists. This is a stage, Shrader said, where musicians like Aubrey Burchell are given a chance to perform and get comfortable in front of a live audience.
“Aubrey was on ‘American Idol’ last year,” Shrader said. “There are many people like her who have come through and then built impressive musical careers for themselves.”
Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival is held in conjunction with the Westmoreland Art Nationals, a juried fine art and photography competition that features art created by artists around the country. The mixed media exhibition is open to the public and free to view on-site. The curator for this year’s exhibition was New Alexandria-based artist Hope Moyer.
During the festival’s off-season, the festival staff hosts poetry and short story contests. The winners of those contests will read their winning work during the festival.
“We have about four people coming this year to read for us,” Shrader said, “and listening to these writers makes for a nice, relaxing time.”
Other highlights of the festival include a FestivalCon Gallery, which will enable festival organizers to give away over 2,000 comic books to children (and even adult comic book fans).
“Comic books expose kids to another art form,” Shrader said.
The vendors who will be on-site this year will be selling candles, jewelry, hand-carved wooden crafts and more.
“We always want to have the new and the different here for people to see and experience, but we also want to have the traditional things that they come for and expect to see every year,” Shrader said. “We’re also always on the lookout for craft items that men like, so this year, we have someone who is selling customized handles for fishing rods, and another vendor who will be selling hunting knives.”
And when it comes to the food options, Shrader said that the options will appear “endless.”
“We have everything from hot sausage and gyros to gluten-free pepperoni rolls,” she said. “New this year, we’ll have lobster rolls, Amish donuts and gourmet cupcakes. The gourmet cupcakes are the best cupcakes I’ve ever had in my life.”
Shrader mentioned that all food and art vendors are listed on Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival’s official website at www.artsandheritage.com.
This year’s festival will also feature some silent auction items and basket raffles.
“We’re very thankful to the artists who contributed items for the auction and raffles,” Shrader said, “and we’re also extremely thankful to all our sponsors and grant-givers who continue to help make this festival happen.”
Shrader and her fellow organizers want to get the crowd involved when it comes to celebrating the festival’s 45th anniversary this year.
“We plan to have someone interviewing people . . . asking how long they’ve been coming to the festival, if they’re enjoying themselves,” she said. “Those interviews will be posted to our Facebook page. We also are placing panels throughout the park featuring photos from the past 45 years. If you see your picture, you should feel free to take it. We’re hoping that all of the panels will be empty by Sunday evening.”
Festival-goers can also have a hand in putting “personal touches” on this year’s 45th anniversary logo.
Shrader said she hopes people will enjoy not only the festival happenings, but also their surroundings.
“It’s nice to come out and spend time at Twin Lakes Park, which is absolutely beautiful,” she said. “People can talk with vendors who are bringing products in from all over the country. They can check out historical presentations, book signings, wine and spirit tastings. And, if anyone wants to spend the night in the Laurel Highlands, some of the local hotels offer special rates.
“My advice is to come early. Spend the day, relax, get some great food, listen to some wonderful music, talk to artists and enjoy yourself. You can’t get more relaxing than Twin Lakes Park, and if you want, you can even rent a paddleboat. It’s just great family fun.”
Parking is limited, so shuttle buses are highly recommended. Those who wish to take a shuttle bus can hop onboard at the following locations: St. Vincent College; Nicely Elementary School; University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg; Wal-Mart at Greengate Centre Plaza. There is a nominal fee to ride the shuttle.
For more information about 45th Annual Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival, visit www.artsandheritage.com or call 724-834-7474.
Shrader said it’s amazing to see how this festival continues to grow in size and inspire people of all ages.
“The festival started in October 1975 Seton Hill College (as it was known at the time),” she said. “That first year, we had three food booths and eight crafters. We changed it to a summer festival the following year, and we moved the location to Twin Lakes Park.
“Last year, after the festival, I got emails from two parents. They told me that their children were so inspired by the chance to join one of our performers on stage and have a brief lesson with her, and their children asked to take music lessons. It’s so nice to know that that artistic spark started here at our festival.”