In lieu of parade, Scranton PorchFest decorates homes with artistic ‘floats’ March 20-28
Over the past year, everyone has had to adjust to doing more at home. Now, even a citywide celebration can happen from the comfort of your front porch.
Just a few weeks ago, the first-ever Scranton PorchFest was announced, not long after residents learned that the annual St. Patrick’s Parade was moving from March to September, and even that is tentative.
That doesn’t mean the Scranton party has to stop – it just requires a different approach, one similar to how New Orleans recently handled Mardi Gras. Instead of parading through the streets on colorful floats, people decorated their homes for a COVID-safe tour dubbed “Yardi Gras” that dressed up houses instead of crowds.
The theatrical organizers behind the Scranton Fringe Festival started PorchFest to bring that spark of creativity to the Electric City and connect people safely as we enter another year of the pandemic.
“I have been directly inspired by the incredible porch floats and house floats coming out of New Orleans and their annual celebration of Mardi Gras,” Scranton Fringe co-founder and executive director Conor Kelly O’Brien said during a Facebook Live stream that answered questions about the new event.
“It is very much putting the power of this creativity into the hands of people – the artists, the homeowners, the businesses, and you, the residents and people who live in this beautiful, beautiful community.”
Scranton citizens and business owners can decorate their porches or storefronts however they like for Saturday, March 20 through Sunday, March 28. There is no set theme, so participants are encouraged to let their imaginations run wild and make their place a destination in the same way local homes do during the holidays. They can even use those Halloween and Christmas decorations that just collect dust this time of year.
“A lot of people are going to embrace St. Patrick’s Day and that’s fantastic, and we welcome you to do that. But what we’re encouraging people [to do] is be creative, team up with your neighbors, get your block on board, see what else you can create,” O’Brien said.
“Maybe your neighborhood is every holiday we’ve missed this year during COVID. Maybe you want to do animal theme – turn your neighborhood into a zoo. I’m in the Hill Section kind of pushing some of my neighbors to do a sort of equinox pageant floral kind of vibe.”
Registration on scrantonporchfest.com is free and optional. Much like First Friday Scranton, those who sign up will be marked on an interactive map so that people know where they can drive or walk by to see the “floats.”
Business districts such as downtown Scranton will even host some special pop-up events. The Bog (341 Adams Ave., Scranton), for example, is planning a bake sale on March 20 as DJ Conor McGuigan spins records outdoors from 1 p.m.-4 p.m., with proceeds benefiting the Scranton Fringe Festival.
Following a year that was particularly difficult for the arts and live entertainment, organizers are encouraging people to hire local artists to help them decorate or stage something special at their location.
“The big, big cornerstone of this work is supporting artists and creative workers in our region in a major way because of this awful pandemic,” O’Brien emphasized.
“Not only are we hoping to help them with getting paid work, we’re hoping to use this as a platform to turn the spotlight and remind people, ‘Look at the vibrancy of this creativity. Look how much it does for our region. Look how much it sends people and money to the local businesses.’ We need to start supporting our local and regional artists. We have got to start viewing them as a vital part of our element and not just that thing that we call upon when we need help, when that small business needs help.”
Just last month, the inaugural Scranton Ice Festival proved that socially distanced events can work to boost businesses and provide a safe outlet for performers to entertain crowds that have been cooped up for months. The Fringe Fest also guided small groups of masked patrons through downtown for its Fringe Under Glass shows last September. That program is set to return later this year.
Over 75 locations have signed up for Scranton PorchFest, mostly downtown and in the Hill Section, but there are also destinations in West Side, South Side, East Mountain, and even into the surrounding boroughs of Dunmore and Moosic. This week-long festival hopes to unite all these sections to celebrate the diverse cultural history of the city and give people something to smile about in these difficult times.
It is not meant to replace the Scranton St. Patrick’s Parade, however, and give residents an excuse to hold massive keg parties on their front lawns.
“This all has to be done with COVID safety in mind,” O’Brien noted.
PorchFest will be documented with photos and videos, and anyone can support the effort with sponsorships and donations through the Scranton Area Community Foundation.
“This is a celebration of community. We are trying to really promote not only local businesses but possibly even more so creatives and artists who really need the support – creative businesses that you can hire and commission,” O’Brien said.
“If you want to get to work, get to work now. You do not have to wait until you get approval from us. This is your festival, Scranton. We’re just here to centralize it, promote it, and set standards … to keep everybody safe.”