Sparks fly at Philly arts festival's last day

Collin Stewart, 8, feeds knight Patrick Davenport's horse a carrot. The street fair took over South Broad Street from Chestnut Street to Lombard.
Collin Stewart, 8, feeds knight Patrick Davenport's horse a carrot. The street fair took over South Broad Street from Chestnut Street to Lombard.
Posted: April 29, 2013

There was a bully on Broad Street on Saturday, but he had nothing to do with hockey pucks.

Rising 16 feet over the crowds in front of the Kimmel Center at Spruce Street, a T. rex showed his terrible teeth, roared a sort-of terrible roar, and wiggled his teeny, terrible forearms.

Children thronged around him in amazement.

Just across Spruce Street, crowds stared in fascination at a fenced-off gang of welders flinging sparks, shooting white-hot arcs of fire and twisting and soldering metal. The craftsmen from Zo Prod Konstructors, based in Poitiers, France, were building an artful time machine from scraps of found metal and car parts.

"It's pretty raw, I'd say," Andy Cannone, 35, said to his friend Salem Chaleby, 33.

From dinos to art-making to Ferris wheels to dozens of food vendors, South Broad Street from Chestnut Street to Lombard Street was taken over by the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, the climactic event of the festival's monthlong run.

Jay Wahl, the festival's producing artistic director, said the proximity of such things as welders and dinos gave the street fair - the festival's second - a special spark.

"The welders are getting such a crowd!" he said. "They're just loving it. It's wonderful because the crowd petting dinos is completely different from the crowd watching the welders."

Ed Cambron, executive director of the festival, declined to estimate the crowd size for the day beyond saying it was comparable to the crowd at the first festival in 2011, which drew about 200,000 people over the course of the day.

This year's festival had a bit less glitz. There was no concluding spectacle (in 2011, La Compagnie Transe Express wowed thousands with an evening aerial extravaganza.)

Instead of two stages for performers, this year's fair featured an amphitheater with raised seating. Musicians wandered the length of the fair.

Inside the Kimmel Center, a steady stream of people walked through an artful interactive time machine - somewhat resembling an LED-lit wormhole - physical embodiment of the festival's theme, "If you had a time machine."

Michael Gerheiser, sitting with Liz Bales inside the Kimmel lobby, the cold LED light of the time machine bathing each of them, said the fair featured "a lot of cool performances, an eclectic mix."

"I'm starting to see the time-machine aspect of it," he continued.

Watching the welders, Alyse Bernstein, who studied welding at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, allowed that "it's pretty cool to see this. It's a nice twist."

"How often do you get to smell that smell?" she continued, as the air filled with acrid welding fumes.

"How often do you get to experience something created? People don't often get the opportunity to see art being made."

Contact Stephan Salisbury

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