By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
WaterFire Sharon organizers want you to think of Saturday’s upcoming festival as a huge community party. The banks of the Shenango River are the destination for fun with an eye to the city’s future.
Bring your friends and especially bring all the kids you can round up for a day and night of family friendly entertainment, participatory arts and crafts and dancing. It’s all part of a three-year effort through annual WaterFire activities to revitalize Sharon through community participation in the arts.
Planning that began in earnest last fall has set the stage for the first of three local WaterFire celebrations based on the model developed by artist Barnaby Evans 15 years ago to promote community revitalization and regional tourism in Providence, R.I.
For weeks now boat crews have been practicing how they will light and tend fires that will burn in 55 braziers anchored in the Shenango from Silver Street to Connelly Boulevard.
They’ll be using pine logs, dry and seasoned so the fires, kindled with cedar, will burn almost smokelessly to illuminate that downtown stretch of the river, said Jennifer Barborak, WaterFire operations manager.
She credited the host of volunteers who have donated their energy, as well as skilled craftworkers who pitched in to do everything from cutting steel, welding, fabricating and powdercoating the braziers, making torches and handling the firewood that will stoke ceremonial fires in the river. They’re ready for the torch ceremony planned for dusk and the lighting of the first fires in the river at about 8:30 p.m.
The cooperative spirit extended to Sharon city leaders, police and firefighters and state agencies who have been working with the committee on traffic plans and fire safety.
Everything is ready to go, Barborak said.
“Anybody we asked for help gave us the help we needed,” she said. “We’re talking about people coming from Kinsman and Greenville, Jamestown and Grove City. Volunteers are coming from everywhere to help us, not just the Shenango Valley.”
Beginning at 10 a.m., visitors can sample ethnic and gourmet foods that will be offered for sale from kiosks on Vine Street. Local and regional artists will be displaying jewelry, photographs, paintings and other arts and crafts for sale in the James E. Winner Jr. Art and Culture Center.
One of the festival highlights -- ArtBeat -- will be community participation in public art. Children and adults are welcome to join in three art projects the group is using to enlist local people in polishing Sharon’s appearance, in part by tapping into its ethnic history, said Dayna Sear, executive director of WaterFire Sharon.
Participants will pay a small fee to help cover the cost of materials.
Columbia Theatre Park will be the location of “Traditions Tree and Friendship Garden,” celebrating Eastern European culture which is one of the cornerstones of life in Sharon and the Shenango Valley.
Local artist Carol Novosel has been coordinating the painting of Ukrainian pysanky, traditional wooden eggs, that will decorate the tree. The goal is to have 2,000 pysanky on display through the September and October WaterFire celebrations, Sear said.
Elsewhere, “Sharon Hopes and Dreams” will use ceramic tiles that anyone can decorate using designs of their own imagination. The tiles will later be glazed and fired in a kiln and ultimately will be applied to decorate the cinder block wall of the Mercer County Community Action Partnership building at Connelly Boulevard and Dock Street.
Artists will be working on murals on the other three sides of the building which was chosen in part because of its location at one of the entrances to downtown Sharon.
“The whole building will be a piece art representing all the people working together to make the community better as we work to achieve our hopes and dreams,” Sear said.
On State Street, a wooden wall will become a Jackson Pollock-style mural with a psychedelic twist.
Anyone and everyone can buy a balloon filled with Day-Glo paint and shoot it onto the wall.
“At the end of the evening, in the dark, artists will take what the community has done and they will pull it together into a visual that will be glowing under black lights,” Sear said.
State Street Bridge will be the site for a daylong variety of drum groups. That’s where everyone with a drum is invited to the 8 p.m. community drum circle.
Feature entertainment - with bands playing from noon on - will take place on a professional hydraulic stage off Railroad Street. At 7 p.m., in front of the stage on a 24- by 30-foot dance floor, anyone who wants to learn swing dancing can join in a few lessons.
At 8 p.m., national touring swing band Dr. Zoot will take the stage for a night of dancing.
Organizers have spent $80,000 to advertise WaterFire Sharon in other markets including Cleveland, Akron and Pittsburgh. Local television and radio stations are promoting it as well.
The ad budget includes $50,000 in a state VisitPA grant through its program to promote tourism and an additional $30,000 from Mercer County Tourist Promotion Agency.
The balance of the $600,000 for WaterFire is private money from donations and sponsorships, Sear said.
Attendance always depends on weather, but Sear says the group expects at least 10,000 spectators from near and far and they’re hoping for thousands of visitors beyond that number. Pittsburgh magazine has listed the festival as one of its 10 things to do in August.
Sear said everything has been prepared for a family friendly celebration that won’t end until midnight.
“This is not when dark comes it’s time to take the kids home,” she said. “We want kids walking along the river and kids and their parents dancing under the stars. That’s the beginning of vibrancy in the community and making good things happen here in Sharon.”
Use the Internet links below for general WaterFire Sharon information and for the schedule of entertainment Saturday: