BY LAUREN FLYNN KELLY — Replacing the longstanding International Festival, usually held in September, Handmade on Hamilton: An International Celebration of Craft, Music and Food made its debut across from the West Hyattsville metro station on November 3.
Handcrafted items displayed by 40 vendors included feathered fascinators, hemp-string and glass-beaded jewelry, tie-dyed and screen-printed T-shirts, African-print handbags and knit scarves and hats.
Local exhibitors included textile artist Rebecca Williams, knitter Kathleen Hellington, local yarn shop A Tangled Skein, and members of the Hyattsville Community Arts Alliance.
But with temperatures dipping to the mid-40s and the sun nowhere to be seen, the festival drew a modest 500 attendees.
“We were hoping for about twice that,” said Acting Director of Community Services Abby Sandel. “But it was the first year, and new events sometimes take a little time to get off the ground.”
As the title promised, the event featured a full lineup of musicians, including the Unity Reggae Band and the all-female percussion band Batala DC.
“It’s cold but at least I get to listen to cool music,” said Baltimore artist Kent Ichikawa, who was selling screen-printed T’s and other wearable art.
Customer Cynthia Mitchel agreed. “Batala was fantastic,” raved the Hyattsville resident as she selected one of Ichikawa’s designs for a friend’s 50th birthday.
Comparisons to the International Festival were inevitable, as the food options this year consisted of two barbecue vendors.
“I liked the International Festival because it was basically just food,” grumbled West Hyattsville resident Matt Humbard. “I was impressed by the variety of vendors,” added wife Krissi. “I hope the event attracts more craft vendors and definitely more food vendors next year.”
“The barbecue food just didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the environment,” said Hyattsville resident Sarah Weber, who felt one “major missing element” was a booth to purchase coffee and other warm beverages.
Ward 5 councilmember Nicole Hinds Mofor, who had initially opposed changing the festival’s theme and date, said this time of year is just too cold to stage an outdoor event. Pointing out that many city events are held on the other side of Hyattsville, Mofor added: “This was a unique event held on the west side and designed for the demographic that actually lives on that side of town. I thought it was unfair to change the event without input from the community and without much about the new event that ties it to the old one.”
Sandel explained that the International Festival, while popular, had become one of many in the area and that there appears to be more demand for showcasing crafters and artisans in 2012.
“There is such a wealth of talent in our region and it is very easy to find outstanding artisans and crafters to come out to a festival,” she said. “People are excited to showcase in Hyattsville and that’s a great thing.”
Still, more than 3,500 visitors flocked to the Fifth Annual Hyattsville Arts Festival on a much sunnier day in September. While some residents wondered why there were two arts festivals so close together, Sandel said that there was very little overlap: the Arts Fest featured a host of housewares; Handmade on Hamilton drew many accessories designers.
Acknowledging that the weather may have negatively impacted attendance, she said that the recreation committee might consider moving the event to September or October next year, but it depends on the city’s busy calendar of events.