Lantern Fest illuminates the autumn night

By: Margaret Duff

Last Saturday, Crouse and Kim Streets were transformed into a dimly lit, gypsy-like parade of families, friends, performers, artists and characters for the annual Don Drumm Studios Light-Up Lantern Festival.

This is the third year for the annual festival, and it has gotten more strange and exciting each time. This year’s theme was “Storybooks,” and artists designed their lanterns, costumes and booths to match this theme.

Upon entering Crouse Street, visitors were immediately greeted by a large stage with a band playing folksy, vaudeville music. In fact, there were four different areas with 15 different bands rotating between them so that there was always music to add to the ambiance of the night.

Among these were Akron student Chris Smith and his band Fast Molasses, who played vaudeville and ragtime music and also performed a comical and very impressive shadow puppet show.

“It was an exciting event, with endless potential,” Smith said.

Along with musicians, there were all types of artists there, such as photographer and University of Akron professor Jody Hawk, who was making portraits and printing them on the spot, or the Myer’s School of Art Print Club, who were selling handmade lamps.

Don Drumm’s world-famous artwork was all over the festival, and visitors were welcome to browse through the Drumm galleries and shops the entire night. Some of the more bizarre performers and artists at the festival were a troop of acrobats, a group of fire dancers, people on stilts and, of course, the shadow puppet show.

It is no coincidence that the Lantern Festival is planned near Halloween. It is not only a celebration of art and handmade lanterns, but also a large costume party.

Entire families dressed in quirky, creative Halloween costumes. While the evening did see a few witches and skeletons, many of the visitors, performers and vendors had extremely elaborate, glowing costumes, all having to do with the Storybook theme. One was likely to encounter Thumbelina, Miss Muppet, elves, jesters, an entire Mad Tea Party complete with Alice, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, pirates, and even a Dia de los Muertos skeleton selling chupitos of horchata.

The best part about the costumes was that they all had an eerie, almost florescent glow to them, and they all stood out in their own mysterious ways. Perhaps one of the best costumes was that of painting professor Mark Soppeland, who was completely covered in strands of Christmas lights.

If you were looking for something to do besides simply marvel at the complexities of these costumes, you could have your palm read or face painted by a fairy, enjoy a blowtorch-cooked pizza, or, of course, build a lantern. The highlight of the festival is the parade, during which artists, performers and visitors all walk down the street to show off their lanterns and costumes.

The Lantern Festival is arranged each year by Leandra Drumm and the University Park Alliance, which is a group that works to better the 50-block area surrounding The University of Akron with community engagement, real estate work and business investments.

This event certainly does contribute to community involvement. By using the enormous amount of creative energy found in Akron’s businesses, artists and students, and making it into an all-ages-friendly celebration, the Lantern Festival helps bring together the community.

Almost every vendor at the festival was a local business, some of the more notable being the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, the Taste of Bangkok restaurant, the Peanut Shoppe and the Stew Pot. Student groups represented were the University of Akron’s Print Club, the Miller South Drama Department’s “Comedia Del Arte” and St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Chinese Club.

Another important aspect of the Lantern Festival is that it brings the party to an area of Akron that doesn’t normally see a lot of family-friendly events — the notorious south side of campus — demystifying the neighborhood and creating a more citywide sense of community.

“The Lantern Festival is for the community,” said Printmaking professor Hui- Chu Ying. “Print Club is very proud to be a part of the Festival activities in such a big way for the first time.”

The more the arts are incorporated into Akron’s culture, the more culture Akron will have, which has proven very beneficial in improving a city’s economic state by bringing in businesses and residents.