Back Door Bakeshop participates in the annual Spring on Fourth Festival on Fourth St. on April 27, 2014. This year's festival will be held on April 18, 2015. (Maggie Xu/B&W photo)

Spring on Fourth Festival unites Lehigh community with South Side Bethlehem

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For the last 19 years, the Spring on Fourth Festival has brought together the South Side community to celebrate the historic city of Bethlehem.

On April 18, the annual festival will take place, but with some new twists. Traditionally, the celebration is held on Third, Fourth and New streets and is an opportunity to honor Bethlehem’s food, music and culture, according to the Downtown Bethlehem Association’s website.

Lehigh students will be able to participate and engage in the broad spectrum of activities at the event ranging from a chili tasting contest, to music acts and a performance in the Chinese pavilion hosted by Touchstone Theatre.

In years past, Spring on Fourth has always occurred during finals, which made it more difficult for the event to be marketed to Lehigh students. This year, the event aims to integrate the Lehigh community with the South Side community, as the festival brings an assorted group of people to celebrate.

One of the events that takes place during the festival is the Cops for Kids program, which is organized by police officers, Lehigh coaches and dedicated volunteers. It includes reading and arts and crafts programs for local children, and an opportunity for children to interact with police officers. There will also be appearances by the mayor and police chief of Bethlehem.

Additionally, restaurants throughout the South Side will participate in the chili tasting event, with each establishment making their own trademark chili for the competition. According to the Downtown Bethlehem Association website, “passports” to attend the chili competition are sold exclusively online and spectators can sample 10 restaurants’ chili for $5.

Homebase, a skateshop located on East Fourth Street, is sponsoring a hot pepper eating contest. Andy Po, the owner of Homebase, has been a part of the festival for years and said he believes the festival has potential to grow and connect the communities of Lehigh and the South Side.

“Maybe you all being the great thinkers you are, will come up with a new idea or angle for the festival to make it even better,” Po said, referring to Lehigh students.

One of the main goals of the festival is to show off the potential of the South Side and its contributions to the Lehigh Valley. Community building is the ultimate goal of the festival, and Lehigh professor Silagh White incorporates this concept into her entrepreneurship class.

Students in her class communicate and build relationships with the participants and restaurants of the festival, and also learn about arts as an economic driver.

Scarlett Nawrocki, ’15, is a student in White’s class and said he has learned a great deal from the project.

“Our whole class is involved in the whole project and it’s a hands-on experience using social media and interacting with the community to produce something,” Nawrocki said. “It’s taking something raw and making an outcome, saying specific things to target a specific customer.”

White explained that a vital aspect of her class is understanding Lehigh’s relationship, or lack thereof, with the surrounding community. A recent ranking by the Princeton Review rated Lehigh as third on a list of “town-gown relations are strained,” suggesting that the university and Bethlehem do not have a great relationship, compared to respective universities.

White hopes students recognize that South Bethlehem has a focus on culture and art that students are not taking advantage of. She hopes that this can happen if Lehigh can get a glimpse of the attributes the South Side has to offer during this festival.

“There is a social element you can’t ignore, and that has a lot of strength,” White said. “Innovation occurs when two ecosystems collide.”

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