WHAT'S HAPPENING: An Unassuming Beginning

Jul 30, 2014 0 comments
WHAT'S HAPPENING: An Unassuming Beginning

Originally published in Manayunk.com Magazine

By Scott Edwards

When the 25th edition of the Manayunk Arts Festival descends upon Main Street June 21 and 22, it’ll feature close to 300 artisans and artists spanning almost every conceivable medium and draw in excess of 200,000 potential shoppers and diners. It will be, by both measures, one of the largest of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region, as it has been since its inception.

That first festival, in 1990, lured 100,000 to Main Street, many for the first time in years. It’s a number that pales in comparison to the current standard, but it was an immediate indication of the festival’s potential. Its success astonished everyone who participated in that first event. To themselves and quietly among each other, they hoped for the best, but none dared to dream quite that large.

This is a look back at how the inaugural Manayunk Arts Festival came to be, and how it changed the course of the next 25 years (and counting) in Manayunk, as told by those who were the most integral to its creation.

Dan Neducsin, founder  I was a developer in Manayunk trying to figure out how we could bring people to the street. A very good friend of mine who was a photographer told me he was just in an arts festival in Chestnut Hill. He estimated that about 5,000 people came. And I thought to myself, Wow, if we could get 5,000 people to the street, that would be great. That would give us exposure. So I got this idea. I didn’t know the first thing about an arts festival but I had a good idea where to start.

My good friend, David Lipson, is the owner of Philadelphia Magazine, so I went to him and said, “Would you sponsor an arts festival?” I think I asked him for a full-page ad and he agreed. Philly Mag gave me credibility and courage to pitch the festival. Jefferson Bank was opening and I said, “This would be a great way to introduce Jefferson Bank to Manayunk.” I think I asked them for $10,000 and they said yes! With these two big names on board I made a presentation to the Business Association of Manayunk [today, the Manayunk Development Corporation]. At the time, I remember they only had $14,000 in their treasury. Without hesitation they committed $10,000 of it. This really put me under pressure, because there I was, getting all this support, and everyone believed in me! I realized I had to figure out how to do it, and I did!

Barbara Boroff, original organizer  I was an experienced craft show organizer but Manayunk Arts Festival was really my first street show. I had a list of two or three thousand names and I put out all of them. It was a very exciting experience. I got a lot of people to respond, as many as I really needed for the first show, and good quality!

Neducsin  About four weeks before the arts festival, I went to New Hope. They had an arts festival. It was a nightmare. It took me two hours to get into the heart of the town. So, I decided I was going to get remote parking lots. And we decided to make a commitment to a shuttle. That was one of the best things that I did.

Boroff  For the first couple years, we had to set up early Saturday morning, like at dawn. Then Saturday night the artists would take their booths down and we would set everything up again on Sunday morning. That was a nightmare and we changed it after a couple of years. Also we couldn’t mark the booth numbers on the street until the evening. So the night before, I guess around six o’clock, we started marking the street. It took everybody in my family came out and help to get the job on time.

Joan Denenberg, current Manayunk Marketing Consultant and Boroff’s daughter  We had a hard time figuring out how to lay out the street. They had it set up one way and then last minute Friday afternoon, they decided it should be another way, there were maybe 250 booths that had to be marked and it was down to the wire. I remember this clearly because I was seven months pregnant that first year, and here I was, with my whole family, hand-marking the street until two or three o’clock in the morning.

Neducsin  Our dream was to bring people to Manayunk, either to bring new visitors to the street or to help those who knew Manayunk rediscover us. We knew this festival would make a world of difference because people had this vision in their mind of this little mill town.

Denenberg  Everybody involved in the planning knew that it had potential, but nobody knew that it would take off like it did.

Boroff That first day of the festival when I walked the street, I bumped into a cousin who said, “My, God. I haven’t been to Manayunk since I bought my furniture.” And that’s when I knew it was a success. I said, “Wow. This is everything we hoped for.”

Neducsin  Instantly after the festival my phone began to ring off the hook  with people looking for properties to open up a business. I personally got more aggressive and any time I’d see a property come up for sale I was interested. After a while, because I had so many properties, I knew what direction I wanted to see Manayunk go, I selected merchants who I thought would be unique and bring people to Manayunk. I didn’t want to do chain stores.

Denenberg  This sort of signature event from a branding standpoint—we didn’t really use those words back then, but you knew that to help create Manayunk as a destination that we really need something big. The arts festival was that “big idea” right off the bat and still is today.

Neducsin  In the beginning, I had tremendous resistance from some people. But it turned to be so successful that it gave us more money to promote Manayunk, and even better, it gave us exposure that lasted 365 days.

Denenberg  It really became the backbone of funding the rest of the marketing and events for Manayunk.


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