Published first on the Progress News, July 19, 2021 | Guest column by ORA President, John Philips
Summerfest 2021 is over, and memories were made as families, friends and foreigners gathered and mixed as a community. If that was the intent, Summerfest 2021 was a roaring success. Hats off to Emlenton and all who worked so hard to give the Valley a great weekend.
The Oil Region Alliance was proud to participate in the event with the “festival within a festival,” FuchsFest, during Friday’s celebration. FuchsFest’s focus was art, with local and regional artists brightening the façade of the tired, dreary industrial building most recently housing Fuchs Lubricants Co., now owned and under development by the Oil Region Alliance.
One artwork of particular interest was a developer’s rendering of a possible future use of the property, a vibrant contemporary waterfront restaurant and retail community doubling as what would undoubtedly be a gem among thousands of American trailheads. This concept won’t become reality overnight, but the artist’s rendering presents the Alliance’s vision for the site. Emlenton and its Blueprint Community Partners have the potential to become a substantial tourism destination and the Alliance is committed to being part of it.
Emlenton has a rich, oil-based history that is an integral part of the Oil Region National Heritage Area. No one appreciates that past more than the Oil Region Alliance, the managers of the ORNHA on behalf of the National Park Service. Sadly, the prosperity of those days is over. Emlenton has become a nice little town along the river. The Oil Region Alliance understands the economics of being a nice little town on the river. It feels good when it works but it does not work in the long run. To become something different means change. It means looking at the world in new ways. It means accepting, even embracing different ways of doing things while respecting a sense of place so that prosperity, not just survival, is the future.
That is what FuchsFest brought to Summerfest 2021. Something new showed up in Emlenton—street art, long recognized and celebrated in cities around the globe, painted by world-renowned artists. Yes, it’s edgy, somewhat mysterious, and maybe a little unnerving to some. But that’s art. It’s somewhat new to rural Pennsylvania and we were fortunate to have one of the Pittsburgh area’s better street artists create on our building. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Art never is. But it has started a conversation. Some like it, some don’t, but the subject of street art is being discussed and opening eyes to an art form with which they were not previously familiar. That’s what will happen as change comes to the valley. There will be many conversations.
We are happy to bring street art to Emlenton and have it displayed on our building. We have heard from many of you who find it refreshing and interesting. We agree with you. Let’s look forward to other new things as well. We have heard from others who do not care for it. That’s okay. We are not offended. And the street art is temporary, as street art often is. It will go away as the building is renovated or removed. We are not pushing street art as a dominant art form in Emlenton. But we do hope you continue the conversations with an open mind, as we are sure you hope those with opinions different than yours will do.
Summerfest was a big event. We bet that not everyone agreed with all the plans all the time. In spite of that, the group worked together, worked through differences, and created something to remember. We think that Emlenton and its neighboring Blueprint Communities can do the same—work together, work through differences and create a new, vibrant, prosperous chapter in the history of the Valley.