Lehigh faculty, staff and students collaborated with community artists, officials and activists on a 10-day festival in October that examined how the Bethlehem community reinvented itself after the closing of Bethlehem Steel, and how it can shape a culturally rich and diverse future.
“Festival UnBound” follows a “Steelbound” event that took place in 1999, based largely on the efforts of festival director Bill George ’73, cofounder of the nonprofit Touchstone Theatre. That artistic undertaking examined the state of a city that was developed around industrial giant Bethlehem Steel, which ceased operations in 1998 after a long decline.
This year’s festival included original theater, dance, music, art and conversation focused on forging the city’s future through art.
“A university-community partnership on this scale and with this kind of richness is rare,” said Seth Moglen, professor of English at Lehigh and coauthor of a play presented at the festival, Hidden Seed—Bethlehem’s Forgotten Utopia. “And it is possible here in Bethlehem because of an extensive network of social, intellectual and artistic collaboration that goes back for decades now. ... Together, artists and scholars—along with residents from every corner of the city—have created a cultural ecosystem that can foster vibrant projects like ‘Festival UnBound’.”
“Festival UnBound” was dedicated to the memory of John Pettegrew, a beloved professor of history at Lehigh, former director of the American Studies program and founding codirector of the South Side Initiative, a consortium of Lehigh faculty, students and staff who work with members of the Bethlehem community to share knowledge, foster democracy and improve the quality of life in the city. Pettegrew died in May 2018, following a long battle with cancer.