It's time to envision Hartford as the walkable city filled with cultural and fun destinations it really is.
That's the goal of the fifth annual Envisionfest Hartford, a free, daylong, family festival of music, art and theater that takes place throughout the Capitol City's downtown area on Saturday, Sept. 17, according to organizers.
"Envisionfest provides the opportunity for people get out of their cars and explore Hartford on foot for a day," says Jackie Mandyck, managing director of the iQuilt Partnership and coordinator of the event. "As they do, they'll discover what a beautiful city it is and experience first hand its amazing cultural assets."
"Walkability" is a focus of the "iQuilt Plan," an urban design for downtown Hartford that works to integrate and connect its cultural sites and institutions.
Many of those institutions — including the Wadsworth Atheneum, The Bushnell, the Mark Twain House, the Butler-McCook Homestead and the Hartford Public Library — along with the city of Hartford and the Greater Hartford Arts Council, are event partners. Most will be offering free admission and special activities throughout the day.
The fun starts at 9 a.m. and includes complimentary carousel rides in Bushnell Park, tours of the Travelers Tower and entertainment on two new venues, one by the Stegosaurus sculptures on Burr Mall — and one on the terrace of the library on Main Street, which will showcase performances by Hartford hip-hop artists.
"The Hartford Public Library partnered with iQuilt Plan to create a new 'Third Stage,'" says Jasmin Agosto, project coordinator. "We'll have ongoing hip hop music and dance performances from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m."
(The performances are also a kick off to the library's special programming, "Hip Hop Nation 2016," a fall series of workshops, events, and exhibits that celebrate Hartford hip hop culture.)
Also new this year, a Mark Twain Lookalike Contest, sponsored by The Mark Twain House and taking place at 2 p.m. on the Main Street stage across from the Travelers building. The entry fee is $25 and participants must register by Thursday, but everyone's invited to watch the fun. Information: MarkTwainHouse.org.
Returning Envisionfest favorites from last year include Big Games, featuring life-size Scrabble, tic-tac-toe, dominoes and BananaGrams played in Bushnell Park, Anne Cubberly's giant puppets, an open-air market with Connecticut artists, vendors, and free yoga and Zumba classes.
"The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts will be holding its Community Day during the festival again this year," says Mandyck.
Once Envisionfest daytime activities wrap up, you can keep the party going at the inaugural Small State Great Beer Festival (smallstategreatbeer.com) produced in association with iQuilt Partnership. The event, on Hartford's Constitution Plaza from 6 to 9 p.m., features more than 30 Connecticut breweries, food and live music. Tickets are $45 for general admission; $25 for designated drivers. VIP tickets, $65, include an exclusive tasting hour and food by Black-eyed Sally's.
Last year's event drew close to 15,000 attendees and this year's happening could be even bigger. But if you're concerned about parking, don't be, says Mandyck.
"Street parking, in legal spaces, is free on weekends," she says. "Or, for a really easy experience, you could take the bus into downtown Hartford and not worry about parking at all."
Envisionfest Hartford is the anchor celebration of the Capital City Festival, a series of events that begins with Run for the Riverfront on Sept. 16 and ends with Riverfront's Pipes in the Valley on Sept. 24. For a complete list of artists, happenings and latest Envisionfest Hartford updates, check envisionfesthartford.com.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct Jasmin Agosto’s name.