Up to 150,000 attend arts festival's last day

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Mackenzia of Movement plays with fire on South Broad Street during the last day of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)

While airborne acrobatics aren't typically associated with high art, they were a fitting way to end the ambitious 25-day Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, in the view of organizer Ed Cambron.

"We actually gravitated toward the high wire," he said Saturday as crews scrambled to make last-minute arrangements to hold a party for thousands on South Broad Street, which was part Champs-Elysees, part Jersey boardwalk, and decidedly Philadelphia.

"We took risks."

In the end, Cambron said, the inaugural festival, somewhat of a massive pep rally for the Philadelphia arts scene at a time when it could use one, was enough of a hit that organizers might consider making it biennial.

The festival involved 145 events at venues around the city; Saturday's grand finale was a barely contained giant street party between Chestnut and Lombard Streets. Event organizers said 100,000 to 150,000 people showed up.

It opened with the aerial performing troupe La Compagnie Transe Express, from Lyon, France, ringing bells and playing percussion at street level.

A block away, teenagers from Bristol Township beat drumsticks on turned-over plastic trash cans and empty sour-cream buckets. "It's an outlet," said Kevin Travers, leader of Drummers With Attitude, and the drumbeats were more than enough to inspire a posse of toddlers to try their hands and legs at break dancing.

Elsewhere, people waited patiently in lines for food, caricature sketches, face painters who turned them into quasi-Polynesians, and, above all, a ride on the Ferris wheel.

Although the wheel was overshadowed by the surrounding South Broad building canyon, and the trampolinists performing nearby seemed to rival its height, it still towered 70 feet.

And by early afternoon, at least 200 were waiting in the line, which went from near Sansom to Walnut, where it was forced to turn left.

"It's going real slow," said event staffer Andy Riehs.

About noon, Laurel Landau of Society Hill was considering taking sons Jeremy, 3, and Caleb, 8 months, on the ride, but for the moment she was riveted by "the Living Fountain," in which water was ejecting from the fingertips of a performance artist (very handy for rinsing dishes, by the way).

Landau said that she regretted not attending any of the other festival events, but that she was enjoying herself immensely Saturday. She particularly liked the diversity of the crowd.

"It's very intergenerational," she said.

Marilyn Edney of Sicklerville said she had read about the festival and was pumped to attend with her husband and great-nephew.

"We try to keep up with the arts," she said.

Given that she and her family had spent all of March celebrating her 60th birthday, she added, "we appreciate that so many things are free" at the festival.

The Edneys visited the lighted Eiffel Tower exhibit at the Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra - which, though it recently filed for bankruptcy, was the focus of the festival.

Cambron, the organizer, said the event had been a major boon for the Kimmel, which, before Saturday, already had drawn about 100,000 visitors.

On Saturday, hundreds milled about the lobby; it was unclear how many were there for the free wine tastings.

The festival was conceived by Kimmel Center officials and underwritten by a $10 million grant from Lenore Annenberg before she died two years ago.

Transe Express, the acrobat troupe, was to close the show Saturday night with a performance 150 feet above Broad and Spruce.

Edney said she was glad she had attended the festival. But, she added, she doesn't really need an excuse to come across the river from New Jersey.

"Philadelphia," she said, "is a fabulous city."

 


Contact staff writer Anthony

R. Wood at 610-761-8423 or twood@phillynews.com.