Thousands gathered in the Commons this weekend to watch performances and try new foods at the Ithaca Festival — a three-day celebration of the city’s art and creativity — according to Executive Director Ben Greenberg.
The festival, which kicked off on Friday, has run every summer since 1977, according to its website.
‘Ithaca Comes Alive This Time of Year’
A parade Friday night — featuring organizations from Planned Parenthood of Ithaca to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology — inaugurated the festival’s weekend events.
Spectator Ceili Peng ’18 called the parade a unique opportunity for Cornellians to “actively participate in Ithaca’s culture.”
“It was fun to see some of my professors riding bicycles, playing instruments and dancing,” Peng said.
Peng added that she believes the parade fostered a sense of unity among attendees, including Cornell faculty, students and families, as well as Ithaca residents.
“During the school year I don’t get off campus all that much, and it’s easy to think of Ithaca as ‘just that place I go to school,’” she said.
The festival is unique in that it is “distinctly Ithacan” — unlike events during the school year, which are often directed towards the city’s large student population — according to Tatiana Sy, special events director for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, a group that managed the festival’s crafts vendors.
“Everything about this festival and these three days is how to highlight what Ithacans love about Ithaca,” Sy said. “It’s a look into its personality and what the backbone of the community wants to celebrate about this place.”
Greenberg echoed Peng’s assertion that students are often too busy during the school year to appreciate events downtown.
“Ithaca comes alive this time of year,” Greenberg said. “I think [seeing the festival] would help students embrace and understand the community that they’re a part of the rest of the year.”
Mark Sarvary Ph.D. ’06, a senior lecturer in neurobiology and behavior — who has attended and participated in the festival for more than a decade — agreed, saying he believes a student tendency to remain in Collegetown limits their Ithaca experience.
“Undergraduates, if they stayed for the Ithaca Festival, would see how Ithaca celebrates [and] be exposed to amazing art, music and food that downtown Ithaca offers,” Sarvary said. “And they would be able to see their instructors do weird things, like pulling a Volvo on skates, riding a scooter or belly dancing.”
‘Amazing’ Community Involvement
Several changes made to this year’s celebration — including moving the parade from Thursday to Friday night and collaborating with the Greater Ithaca Activities Center — enabled more expansive street space and events, according to the festival’s website.
“There’s something about this space that just looks nice and has a warm feeling, and I think people are really happy to be out there,” Greenberg said.
Participants also benefited from the spaciousness of the newly renovated Ithaca Commons, which drew attendance from families and children, according to Greenberg.
Greenberg stressed that the amount of support the festivaI received from Ithacans has been “amazing.”
“I’ve done events in other cities and there’s usually a lot of push back, but in this community there was so much support,” Greenberg said. “When we wanted to do things, everyone was open minded to embracing the changes that we were making because they want the festival to be successful.”
Sy also stressed the equally vital role that Ithacans’ enthusiasm played in the event’s success.
“It’s an important part of what keeps the events year round ticking and functioning,” Sy said. “The participation doesn’t go unnoticed, and it’s always appreciated.”
The involvement of both Cornellians and Ithacans contributed to the festival’s sense of community, according to Doğa Tekin ’18, who marched with One Heart Community Drumming at the front of the parade.
“This weekend is truly a magical one where every Ithacan can be with one another, and share their positive energy, happiness and love,” Tekin said.