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Global pandemic puts damper on plans for area arts events

Lycoming Arts will be celebrating 20 years of First Friday in downtown Williamsport in 2021. LORENA BENIQUEZ/West Branch Life

Lycoming Arts has been proudly serving and representing our area for the past 60 years. And in 2021, their First Friday event will be celebrating 20 years. Lycoming Arts has been recognized as part of the County’s Comprehensive Plan as one of the top 10 initiatives.

Williamsport First Friday is one of Lycoming Arts’ year-round trademark events. On the First Friday of every month, they partner with downtown businesses that keep their doors open late to host local artists, bands, and art events of all kinds. The goal of First Friday is to celebrate the arts while promoting local artists and fostering Williamsport’s reputation as the Northern Tier’s regional cultural center.

“From April to October we have a permit from the City of Williamsport to have vendors line our sidewalks, share music on our streets on three stages and other entertainment as pop-ups to enliven the downtown and shine a light on all our wonderful artists,” said Lycoming Arts President Debi Burch. “It is both economically and culturally beneficial for our community. For the past two years, UPMC – Life Changing Medicine has been our event sponsor, bringing an educational wellness feature to our event.”

But this year with the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic creating a public health crisis and changing our way of life, Burch and Lycoming Arts realized very quickly that it was going to have a huge impact on their monthly events for the remainder of the year. Initially, they knew that the town would have to make changes. Their answer to that was to get in touch with Mojo Active who rebuilt their newly launched website.

“We had the idea that if we could be a positive place for people to find activities for their kids that could also qualify for arts classroom credits, we could help our community even though we’re not able to host our regular First Fridays,” Burch said. “Our new YouTube channel with artists hosting projects was a way to respond and help give back to the community. These are also included on our Facebook page.”

They had applied for their permit in January for the First Friday events, but due to COVID-19 they have yet to be granted that permit.

“We understand the need to proceed with caution and have relied on the city of Williamsport to direct us on this,” Burch said.

Lycoming Arts is able to offer workshops in a limited capacity, with masks, distancing, and no shared materials. They have reached out to area artists to have them show in their windows and included their contact information there.

“Our guidelines will mirror what is required of any outdoor event: we will have 6 feet circles to ensure distancing, encourage masks, and possibly even a contest!” Burch said. “And we are also working with the mayor to see if we can spread out in the streets involved and put more distance between our vendors.”

Burch has been involved with Lycoming Arts since the late ’90s. After leaving the board in 2003, she continued to remain involved with special projects and consulting over the years and returned to board membership in 2015. The past two years she has served as vice president of the board and acted as the Arts in the Neighborhoods chair. Burch has been a member of the marketing committee, the Catch the Spirit Committee, and along with a paid artist, has taken the Art2GO! art cart to all the First Saturdays. She has also served as one of their representatives on the County’s Comprehensive Plan initiative.

“As a board member, we all participate in First Fridays,” Burch said. “I have helped with set up, met with sponsors, signed in vendors, and generally helped in any way that was needed.”

UPMC’s sponsorship has allowed a much broader brush in advertising and networking, which has resulted in the ability to market with a farther reach.

“It has helped us to bring more people to our downtown and we have been able to share our wonderful artists, as well as, our town, merchants and fabulous restaurants and entertainment to an even larger community,” Burch said.

Lycoming Arts First Friday will be celebrating their 20th anniversary next year and they are looking forward to celebrating that milestone.

“We plan to continue our event just as soon as we get the go ahead!” Burch said. “We miss our artists and art friends! We have overcome many obstacles over the past 60 years and expect to overcome COVID-19 too. We look forward to continuing our tradition of bringing arts and the community together.”

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