Tacoma’s Art on the Ave goes epic

“Epic” was Angela Jossy’s goal for Sunday’s “Art on the Ave” festival, the quirky street fair that hijacks Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue every July.

“Last year was pretty much perfect,” said Jossy, the festival’s main organizer. “How do you get better than that? You go epic.”

Sunday’s festival was definitely bigger. From its modest beginnings 16 years ago, the event has grown to encompass nine blocks of Sixth Avenue. This year, organizers added carnival rides for kids at the Jason Lee Middle School baseball field, magicians and a circus tent.

There were five stages for bands this year and more than than 120 arts and crafts venders. There were pole dancers, a climbing wall and a five-piece jazz band on the roof of The Half Pint Pizza Pub – all new.

But was it epic?

Billy Brown said a better word might be “awesomer.”

Brown, who lives in an apartment complex facing the avenue, took advantage of the thousands of passing festivalgoers by setting an impromptu garage sale on the grass strip next to the street. He and a half-dozen neighbors offered an eclectic selection of goods ranging from old mirrors and kitchen implements to motorcycle helmets and auto repair manuals.

His personal sales were “iffy,” Brown said, but the festival itself was the best it’s been since he first started coming in 2007.

“Every year it’s getting more awesomer and awesomer,” he said. “They moved it up a block to Jason Lee. They got the swings for the kids, and they bounce around. Yeah, it’s very awesome.”

Since admission is free, crowd estimates for Art on the Ave are hard to come by, but veterans of past festivals said they thought there were at least as many people as in recent years, when estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 15,000.

“It’s been super-hot, but that didn’t stop people,” said RR Andersen, a “Tinker Patrol Deputy” stationed at the festival’s east entrance, at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and State Street. “It’s been a steady flow all day.”

Temperatures weren’t epic, but they were close, hitting 89 degrees just after noon.

Some musicians in close to two dozen bands that performed were clearly feeling the heat. A 3:30 p.m. performance by Rust on the Rails had performers and audience members all dripping with sweat.

As for the art, which is the avowed reason for the festival, it was more ever-present than epic. But that, said an artist and musician who gave her name as “Sonic Obsession,” is what really matters.

Obsession was sitting on the pavement near State Street, throwing herself so intently into a series of cartoon chalk drawings on asphalt that her arms, legs and face were streaked yellow, green and red.

“It’s all about creativeness” she said. “It’s kind of like a free, creative atmosphere. It’s out in the sunshine. It’s free chalk. So, yeah. Creativeness. Creativity.”