By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Brian Benedetti was sitting in a tent Wednesday going through his papers and notes as he answered a reporter’s questions, when a gust of wind came up and knocked over one side of the tent.
Benedetti never hesitated. He’s used to weather issues when it comes to the annual Fine Arts Fiesta — the 62nd annual event is set to start Thursday and run through Sunday.
A little wind wasn’t going to get him flustered.
Benedetti has been the executive director of the Fine Arts Fiesta for more than 30 years, and he lives it all year round.
“Once again there is a lot of enthusiasm for this year’s event,” Benedetti said. “There’s a lot of goodwill attached to the Fine Arts Fiesta.”
As evidenced by the 300-plus volunteers and the more than 300 private donors who make the event possible. On Wednesday, volunteers were putting up displays, painting wall-boards, organizing tents and much more. As all that was happening, vendors were setting up their food stands around the perimeter of Public Square.
Main Stage performers will be performing throughout the four days of the Fiesta, including Saturday night’s concert by legendary folk artist Tom Rush. The Fine Arts Fiesta is Pennsylvania’s oldest community arts festival, filling Public Square and the rest of the downtown with four days of art and music from Thursday through Sunday.
Benedetti is especially excited about the new Children’s Workshop, where kids up to age 12 can express themselves by painting or drawing on large easels.
“We will provide all the supplies,” Benedetti said. “And the children can walk around the Fiesta and come back after their art dries, and they can take it home.”
Benedetti said the quality of the art being displayed improves every year, as does the overall feel of the event.
“We have new artists every year, and many come back year after year,” Benedetti said. “The Fiesta is ever-changing.”
Founded in 1956 by Annette Evans and Alfred Groh as an annual celebration of the arts in the Wyoming Valley area, the first Fiesta lasted three days and presented music, dance, drama, sketches and displays. Over the years the event has grown to four days, and continues to thrive as the longest-running free event offered in the city with more than 60,000 people expected to attend. Benedetti said more than 50 fine artists and crafters will be exhibiting, and there will be a broad range of free, continuous performances for all ages.
There will be two festival-sponsored juried art exhibits for students and adults and a tantalizing array of Fiesta foods will be offered, including a German food vendor for the first time in Fiesta history.
“This was Annette Evans’ dream,” Benedetti said. “She wanted to improve the appreciation of art and she wanted people to come out and experience it and support local artists.”
On Sunday at 4 p.m., the Fiesta will wrap up with a tribute to the late George Wesley, whose final performance was at Fiesta 2016. Former members of his band — the I-tations — and other friends will play in remembrance of Wesley.