On Saturday, April 22nd, Richmond City Media visited the 11th Annual St. George Day Festival at Tompkinsville Park. The festival, which took place on Earth Day, invites residents and visitors to share in a day of music, art, food, community outreach, and of course, dragons!
The St. George Day Festival is a volunteer-based event sponsored by Everything Goes Bookstore and CATPAW, the Community Association of Tompkinsville Park Promoting Arts and Whimsy. For the past eleven years, these organizations have worked together to harness enough people-power from the community to get the event off of the ground.
“There’s a great deal of people who know about the festival each year so they’ll come to us,” said Melissa West, Chief Organizer of the St. George Day Festival. “But with the core organizers, it’s really a labor of love.”
Each year, volunteers get together with Katie McCarthy and Steve Jones Daughs from Everything Goes Bookstore and Cafe. The organizers work with volunteers to prepare for the festival and put out “calls to action” through neighborhood flyers and social media posts.
“Katie and Steve are really the core,” said Andrew Blancero, Volunteer Coordinator and Information Booth Organizer. “They’ve built around them these rings of people who are interested in or volunteer for the areas that we have here. Each part of this festival has a community associated with it that has been built up over the years.”
The festival boasted several “zones,” including a Music Stage, DIY Craft Zone, Earth Day Zone, Artisan Zone, Staten Island Information Booth, and an Art Around the Park Fence Show.
Jahteik Long, a Staten Island based artist and curator of the Art Around the Park Fence Show, was excited to utilize his network and showcase some of Staten Island’s most creative talents.
“A lot of people don’t realize what a large art community there is on Staten Island,” said Long. “People would rather go to Brooklyn or the city, but they really don’t have to. We have plenty of talent right here. It’s so important to come out and support one another so we can continue to create.”
Long hopes to further promote Staten Island’s art community through both the St. George Day Festival and other art events on the Island in the future.
Right across from the Art Fence Show was the Earth Day Zone, featuring a free bike repair tent, the New York City Compost Department, and representatives from a number of Staten Island parks.
One of these representatives was John Kilcullen, the Director of Conference House Park in Tottenville. He was giving away free Red Maple Trees on behalf of St. George Green Trees, an initiative that promotes tree planting for Arbor Day and Earth Day.
“I can talk forever about the benefits of a tree,” said Kilcullen. “They just make a neighborhood greener, quieter, and more beautiful. People gravitate towards green spaces.” Kilcullen hoped to encourage festival goers to bring home trees in an effort to promote greener and cleaner neighborhoods.
The festival coincides not only with Earth Day, but also with the internationally recognized St. George Day. According to legend, St. George was asked to help slay a dragon in an effort to save his community. Thanks to this accomplishment, St. George is now a patron saint of many countries, as well as this North Shore neighborhood’s namesake.
Despite his heroic efforts, the organizers of the St. George Day Festival created their own version of the story that promotes both sustainability and a stronger sense of community.
According to the official St. George Day Festival website, “St. George helps the People and the Dragon learn to hear each other and work things out peacefully, ultimately becoming Allies who enrich each other's lives.” The event hopes to encourage both participants and attendees to “reinvent our world, come out to creatively celebrate our diverse community, and have a wonderful time together!”
Aside from environmental awareness and activism, one of the goals of the St. George Day Festival is to activate Tompkinsville Park as a public space. The park itself is a charming little slice of greenery at Bay Street and Victory Boulevard, just a short walk from the Tompkinsville train station and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. It’s also adjacent to a number of local small businesses that can benefit from increased foot traffic.
Janet Dugo, Project Manager of the Downtown Staten Island Commercial District, is hoping this event will encourage shoppers to patronize businesses along Bay Street. She is also a member of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, an organization that “acts to improve the economic climate and expand business opportunities on Staten Island,” according to the Chamber’s mission statement.
“There’s all of this development going on at the Ferry,” said Dugo. “We don’t want people to just walk off the ferry, shop at the terminal, and then turn around and go back to the city. We want them to come down to Bay Street!”
Despite the gloomy weather conditions, the St. George Day Festival was able to bring a day full of fun, entertainment, and education to the community.
“There’s so much going on,” said Melissa West. “It doesn’t matter if you live here or if you’re just stopping through. It’s an invitation for people to come together.”
Both organizers and attendees had positive outlooks on not only the day’s events, but on their impact on the future of the neighborhood.
“Normally what this is is just a small extension of Bay Street that people, frankly, speed down or just park at,” said Andrew Blancero. “People will now remember St. George Day whenever they see this stretch, and they’ll remember how busy and full of life it was on this day.”
To learn more about the St. George Day Festival or to volunteer for next year, visit their website.