The sidewalks will become the stages Saturday as the burgeoning Plaza District hosts its biggest bash of the year.
The annual Plaza District Festival will celebrate Oklahoma art, entertainment and food from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday in the once-blighted, now-bustling arts, commercial and residential district in the 1700 block of NW 16, just west of N Classen.
“It's really a day to showcase what we have in the district and the progress that we've made as well as highlighting local creativity,” said Kristen Vails, executive director of the Plaza District Association.
Admission and activities are free at the festival, which will include 40 visual arts exhibiting in tents along NW 16, a vast children's interactive zone, live music and dance performances in three outdoor areas, a Bigfoot Calling Contest and more. Local food trucks will park in the Plaza, and district restaurants, galleries and businesses are planning special activities.
An estimated 4,000 patrons attended the 2011 festival. About 5,000 are expected this year.
“Last year's was just packed the whole day. Our businesses had like double-record sales and triple-record sales that day. It was definitely the biggest year,” Vails said.
In the 1930s, the Plaza District was a thriving commercial area featuring shops, restaurants, bars and the landmark Plaza Theatre. Decades later, the declining district was plagued with crime and urban decay. In the past few years, Lyric Theatre's renovation of the Plaza Theatre, a streetscape paid by a city bond issue and the opening of several studios, galleries and businesses have transformed the once-decrepit neighborhood into a city hot spot.
“It's just such a sense of community. ... There's a huge sense of pride from all those folks. They're really excited to see some of their hard work pay off,” said Jonathan Fowler, general manager of Fowler Volkswagen of Norman, the festival's presenting sponsor. “The culture down there is so DIY that they can do so much with just a little bit of help.”
The festival started as a modest neighborhood block party but has bloomed into a full-blown celebration as the district has blossomed, Vails said. Monthly Live on the Plaza art walks have established the district as a cool place to be.
This year, the festival will showcase more musicians as the event shifts from a single, central stage to three outdoor performance areas. While Everything Goes Dance Studio will provide an actual stage for its performers, who will dance in an array of styles from ballet and tap to hip-hop and flamenco, the musical acts will play at crowd level.
The east performance area at NW 16 and Blackwelder will showcase singer-songwriters, while the west area outside the Coin Laundry will spotlight full band performances. Music lovers won't find a formal stage in either spot.
“The stage, in the past, it's just kind of become background to everything else that's going on, and that's not fair to the performers,” Vails said. “So why not bring them out into the crowd a little more where it's a little more intimate? ... We've got all these wide sidewalks, we might as well use them.”
For the second year, the Fowler VW Tent will invite festivalgoers of all ages to let loose their wild side with a Bigfoot Calling Contest. Participants can watch the 1987 film “Harry and the Hendersons” for inspiration or devise an original Bigfoot call.
“I think the Bigfoot call really is more in spirit than it is a specific call. I think it's a feel that's given off by the caller, you could say,” Fowler said playfully, adding that the allegedly mythical creature again will be lurking at this year's festival.
Plus, the festival's Kidapalooza will feature the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's musical instrument playground, interactive art activities by Norman's Firehouse Art Center, Metro Library System activities, a photo booth, face painting and sidewalk chalk. Children will get to contribute to a community mural that artist Dusty Gilpin has designed as a sort of giant coloring book, Vails said.
“The festival's really our opportunity to provide lots of art activities for the neighborhood and for anyone who comes down,” she said. “It's just like a big party. And it's fun, every year there are new businesses to highlight.”
This year, an artisan sandwich shop known as The Mule will be among the newcomers. Urban Wineworks executive chef Jonathan Turney looks forward to getting outside to share his passion for pork, produce and other locally sourced food during the festival.