What do you get when you combine two favorite local summer festivals into one? A double dose of free family fun at the Connecticut Family Festival on the New London waterfront on June 3!
Fish Tales, Tugs and Sails and Kidstock are joining forces this year, in collaboration with New England Science and Sailing and Connecticut Family magazine. Fish Tales finished its tenth year in 2016, offering storytelling, live music scientific demonstrations, and lots of boats. Hygienic Art Gallery’s Kidstock enjoyed its first children’s art festival that summer. The events took place some of the hottest days of the summer, and organizers decided to put their heads together to come up with a better plan. Moving the date to earlier in the season and merging the talent and resources of those involved has generated a bigger, broader event.
“It’s a new festival, but families will see the same things they remember from Fish Tales,” said Tina Salcedo of New London Youth Affairs (NLYA), as well as other new and exciting activities.
New London’s history with the sea plays a large role in the focus of the activities chosen for the literacy festival, the theme of which is stewardship for the environment. “The experience can show young readers how they can help protect their community and resources, which for us is Long Island Sound,” said Mary Ann Horrigan of New England Science and Sailing Foundation (NESS). Horrigan is the program director for NESS. “We are an ocean adventure program, using programs to engage students in learning, build teamwork, and help them become productive citizens,” she said.
The programs include platforms such as snorkeling, kayaking, adventuring, stem sciences, and sailing. NESS started the initiative for New London students in mostly underserved communities.
“Education is the forefront for change,” said Horrigan. “The schools have a really exciting opportunity to engage the community more, and create our children as future stewards of this community. The festival is a showcase of the tremendous work and exciting opportunities for education in New London.”
Connecting families through literacy is another strong component, Salcedo said. “The festival is about children’s literature and encouraging families and children to read together. We really wanted to connect with the school systems and help promote their summer reading programs,” she explained. Planning the festival for early June made more sense because kids are gearing up for the end of school.
What fun things will families experience at Connecticut Family Festival? NESS will be at the pier with small sailboats and certified instructors to introduce families to the excitement of sailing. NESS will also man a large tent filled with engaging opportunities to learn about things like marine debris and water quality issues.
“We also provide water bottles and have filling stations to eliminate the plastic water bottle problem,” Horrigan added. “At the end of the festival, we’ll calculate how much water we used and then figure out how many plastic bottles we prevented from getting into our system.”
The New London Youth Affairs crew have invited several boats to the pier for families to explore. In the past, there’ve been sailing vessels, a large sailing ship and a Project Oceanology research vessel. There will be tugboats to see up close (but please note that visitors aren’t allowed onboard). The Free Men of the Sea will entertain with pirate shanties and full costumes. Local nonprofit vendors will set up under a large children’s activity tent, offering free hands-on activities. Several authors, including Tish Rabe and Peter Mandel (author of “Boats on the River”), will do readings and talk with the children.
But the festival also reaches beyond the waterfront.
“This year is a little different,” said Salcedo, “because our headline performers will be up at the Hygienic Art Park. Steve Songs and also Steve Elci and Friends will be performing, and Lana Burton will do creative dance, getting the kids up on the stage to dance.” The Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School chorus will perform, and plans are in the works to have other groups on hand. It’s a wonderful way to introduce families to the rich cultural atmosphere in downtown New London. The festival will include food vendors, and there are plenty of dining options just steps away at local restaurants.
The best thing about this festival is that it is free and open to everyone, thanks to funding and sponsors who believe in the future of our kids and the environment, the organizers said.
To stay up-to-date with festival news and developments, follow the Connecticut Family page on Facebook. Arts, cultural and environmental groups are invited to take part in the activity area, and participation is free. Vendor applications are available on the Facebook page. Retail vendors are also invited to participate; that application can be found on Facebook as well.