Wednesday, July 11, 2012

adventures in Brookings: the Summer Arts Festival edition.

There are a number of things I look forward to come summertime: days at the lake, finally getting some color on my pasty Scandinavian skin, and an excuse to eat nothing but hot dogs and potato chips for several months straight. However, there is one thing that I look forward to more than anything else, even s’mores over a campfire. What on earth could be better than campfire s’mores? The Brookings Summer Arts Festival.
During the second weekend of July, the city of Brookings is transformed into a mecca for all things crafty.  The festival takes up an entire park and then some: it spills across the street onto the sidewalks and any available space. You park wherever you can find a spot, be it the five dollar lot run by the Boy Scouts or the ditch along the highway.

There are a number of things you need to have a successful run at the Summer Arts Festival: an empty stomach, plenty of cash, comfortable shoes, and sunscreen. An empty stomach for the various food booths you’ll want to visit, cash for said food plus any other things you find that you can’t live without, comfortable shoes for the miles you’ll be putting on, and sunscreen because it’s always blazing hot.

The Summer Arts Festival is only two days long: Saturday and Sunday. Saturday is the big day: you arrive, anxious to eat all the food that you haven’t had since last Summer Arts Festival. I have been going to the Arts Festival for as long as I can remember, so my family and I have – through trial and error – determined the best possible way to go about your day of eating. We pack a cooler to leave in the car, arrive right and lunchtime, and share everything we get to have the maximum food experience.
Sara and Nate are maxed out on food.
Personally, I always begin with cheese curds. I usually pair them with frozen hot chocolate – which is nothing short of perfect on a million degree July day. The rest of the afternoon usually involves donut holes and a strawberry smoothie (made with real strawberries, of course). Those are the staples: each year, there’s something new and different at the Arts Festival. They had alligator last year, but I passed that up in favor of more cheese curds.
By the time I’m done eating, I’m usually broke. On the off chance that I didn’t spend all my cash on fried food, I might buy a trinket or two from the art booths. Even if I’m not buying, it’s always fun to look. The Arts Festival has everything from oil paintings to metal lawn sculptures to purses made out of record covers. The handmade jewelry is always stunning, and there’s always a giant photograph that I would love to hang on my wall. You can buy South Dakota honey, and you can take home some stunning hand-carved furniture. Seriously: the Arts Festival has everything.
Even super crazy mirrors.
If eating and shopping just isn’t enough for you, never fear: the Arts Festival even has entertainment! Throughout both of the festival days, they’ve got activities at multiple locations. There’s a special kids’ booth where librarians read children’s books or a camp counselor teaches them how to do crafts. The college theatre group puts on scenes from their upcoming summer plays, and there are always medieval-ly dressed people jousting. They always have some goofy magicians, and there’s always some kind of local music.

For me, the Arts Festival has always been a two-day affair. Saturday is to get your initial fill of the food and scout out any art or craft that you may or may not be able to live without. By the end of Saturday, you’re exhausted from a day of eating, walking, and sweltering in the sun, so the best thing to do is to retreat to Lake Poinsett. Then, you go back on Sunday for a much shorter duration. Sunday is the day to get seconds of the really great food and make a final decision on that really awesome clock that you didn’t buy yesterday.
Pictured: day 2.
The Summer Arts Festival is THE gathering place for South Dakotans, even those who have moved away. When I lived in Minneapolis, I cruised back for the Arts Festival. My mom’s high school classmates from across the country to their best to make it back over Arts Festival weekend. 
Julie, Judy, and my mom Brenda at the Summer Arts
Festival. High school classmates!
You never know who you’ll run into while you’re gnawing on an Arts Festival turkey leg (note: I don’t actually eat the turkey legs, but it’s a great visual, don’t you think?).
James eat turkey legs!
Running into people you know is fun, of course, but the people you DON’T know are even better. The Brookings Summer Arts Festival is a people-watching paradise, second only (in my experience) to the Minnesota State Fair. Every year, I play the Ugly Tattoo Game with whoever has accompanied me to the Arts Festival. The rules are quite simple: whoever spots the ugliest tattoo wins. The losers then have to buy the winner Arts Festival food of his or her choice. There are SO many to choose from: I won in 2009 with a replica of the Green Bay Packers stadium on some guy’s arm. I don’t remember who claimed the title last year, but I do remember that the winning tattoo was two paw prints in a rather large woman’s cleavage. However, my brother Mitch is the all-time Ugly Tattoo champion with his 2010 beauty of a tattoo: a unicorn head superimposed over a rainbow… on a hairy 300 pound man.

Let’s review: greasy food + neat crafty stuff + live entertainment + people watching = the Summer Arts Festival = truly something for everyone. I’ve been to a number of arts festivals in my day, but nobody does it like Brookings. So if you’re in the area this summer (more specifically, July 14 and 15), I strongly encourage you to check it out. I’d even share my cheese curds with you.

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