Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Artsfest goes virtual this weekend, as pandemic forces annual festival online

A scene from last year’s Artsfest in Riverfront Park

The art world is known for being inspired, original, innovative, and Harrisburg’s Artsfest captures that. But this year, festival organizers had to get even more creative.

For 52 years, the arts have been celebrated in the city through Artsfest, a three-day festival in Riverfront Park. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, it’s moving online.

“I’m really excited for Artsfest this year,” Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said. “I think we did the right thing. I know it’s different, but it can still be a lot of fun for people.”

From May 23 to 25, the city will stream the experience free through Facebook. That includes the juried art show, as well as musical and theatrical performances and activities.

Although the physical experience of perusing the crafts at Artsfest is on hiatus, shoppers and art connoisseurs can browse an online marketplace. Handmade items from nearly 200 artisans will be available, including ceramics, furniture, jewelry, paintings, photographs and more. Many of these artists will demonstrate their creative processes during the festival.

Papenfuse sees this aspect of Artsfest as particularly important this year, as customers have the power to help keep artists in business during the crisis.

“We can really show off artists and hopefully generate sales,” he said. “It’s about sustaining artists so they can come back next year.”

To accompany the visual art, the public can enjoy video performances from over 10 bands and musicians or listen to the Artsfest playlist including the artists on Spotify.

Children and families are encouraged to join the virtual festival for educational activities revolving around the arts. The Popcorn Hat Players will present “Sleeping Beauty,” and Open Stage will show kids what it takes to act with a theater lesson. Whitaker Center will demonstrate a S.T.E.A.M. craft, and there will be painting and dance tutorials by local studios.

To round out the experience, chefs will give the public a taste of the art of cooking. Knead HBG, Sherri’s Crab Cakes and Stock’s on 2nd are selling meal kits and offering video cooking tutorials for making some of their favorite recipes at home.

“I love the cook-at-home concept,” Papenfuse said. “I love the idea of getting festival food at home.”

One of the more virtual-friendly aspects of Artsfest, Moviate’s “Underground Film Fest,” will continue this year with 12 short experimental and international films.

This is the first year that Harrisburg city organized the event in-house. It was previously hosted by the Greater Harrisburg Arts Council then taken over by the former arts group, Jump Street.

Papenfuse explained that the virtual Artsfest will likely last this year only for the safety of the community. The city looks forward to welcoming visitors back to Riverfront Park next year.

The city is not the only one making tough decisions in the art world. Habitat for Humanity decided to move its 15th Art Builds Homes Annual Art Auction fundraiser online as well.

The silent auction will go live on May 29 with an option to preview the art on the May 24. Tickets are available on their website and proceeds go towards building affordable housing in the greater Harrisburg area.

To participate in Harrisburg’s Artsfest live on May 23 to 25, follow their Facebook event. To watch performances and activities beyond the festival dates, visit the city’s website.

For more information or to register for Habitat for Humanity’s Art Auction, visit

Continue Reading