The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

December 13, 2012

WaterFire planners aim to illuminate city

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — Marilyn Fredenburg likes that it will be free. Bob Uhalie thinks it will enhance downtown Sharon. Bob Wilson promises it will be a world-class event.

They are all talking about WaterFire Sharon, the day-long community event centered around the Shenango River that will be lit for the first time Aug. 3.

The idea originated in Providence, R.I., and has grown over 16 years to bring millions of people and millions of dollars to an area already known for its arts community.

While local organizers do not expect the economic impact will be anywhere near what Providence has experienced, they believe people will come from 100 miles away to see WaterFire Sharon, bringing new tourist dollars into the community and bringing the community together.

“The project is especially appealing to me because it will have an economic impact, not only on downtown Sharon, but on our county and region,” Wilson, WaterFire Sharon board chairman, said Wednesday at what was be the first of several public meetings.

At a WaterFire event, fires of pine and cedar logs burn in baskets anchored in a waterway, with music playing, performance artists performing and crowds enjoying flying sparks, reflections on the water, the aroma of the burning wood and the heat of the fires.

“It touches all of your senses,” said Wilson, one of several committee members who have attended WaterFire Providence.

A video of a WaterFire Providence event showed a ritualistic lighting of the braziers, music setting a mood, and a crowd rapt by performing clowns, fire dancers and fire breathers.

The music and performances support the theme of the event, and the mood can range from celebratory to healing, he said.

While the torches are lit at dusk and kept burning until, say, 11:30 p.m., the event lasts all day with an art show and performances and other events during the day.

“It’s definitely needed,” said Fredenburg, of Hartford, who volunteered to help organize the art show. “I think it has great potential.”

Downtown Sharon is a “hidden jewel” and a river-centered event such as WaterFire will draw people to town, she said.

“We need something to revitalize and give us a boost,” Fredenburg said, stressing that the event is free to attend.

“It would be nice to have something fun and different,” she said.

“I believe it will be great,” said Uhalie, of Sharon, also spurred to volunteer. “I’m excited about anything enhancing the city of Sharon, especially culturally, socially, bringing people together.”

The volunteers who work the event become a family as they share their stories and talents toward the goal of bringing off the event, said Jennifer Barborak, committee vice chairman.

“You become one with the event,” she said.

Barborak has volunteered at WaterFire Providence events and knows the workings of the event “like the back of my hand.”

She promised the volunteer training will be on point.

“I will not let anyone flounder and not know what is going on,” she said, calling for people to load boats, light and fuel torches, organize food vendors and design brochures.

Volunteers already have started building the braziers and donations from local companies have greatly reduced the cost to make them, Barborak said.

“This will be a world-class event,” Wilson said. “We must be perfect and thorough.”

The committee is planning to install 50 braziers between Connelly Boulevard and Silver Street for WaterFire events tentatively set for Aug. 3, Sept. 14 and Oct. 12, with the streets closed at the bridges to allow for a figure-eight walking pattern past artist booths and food vendors.

Those food sellers will be from local churches and civic organizations, said committee member Gary Meszaros.

The committee has raised $300,000 in pledges to cover the start-up costs, which include building the braziers, buying a sound system, boats, benches and a boat dock, and training volunteers.

More funds are being sought toward a three-year plan that includes hiring a director, paying licensing fees, installing more benches, promoting the events and holding six in 2014 and 2015.

Information: Donations can be made to WaterFire Sharon at the Shenango Valley Foundation, 7 W. State St., Sharon 16146.