The 15th annual Athens ArtsFest kicks off today, with thousands of people expected to enjoy the art, music and other activities on the grounds of Harlan Rowe Middle School.

ArtsFest, which began as a day-long pottery "throw-a-thon" held by director and Athens Area High School art teacher Dave Webster's pottery classes, was first held as an official juried show with 16 artisans in 1999. Since then, the festival has grown to 140 juried artists and crafters, 50 local business, school and non-profit exhibitors and countless activities for visitors of all ages.

Pottery remains a mainstay of the festival, with visitors of all ages welcomed to the large clay tent to try their hand at throwing a pot.

This year, the festival has grown to include a classic car show on Saturday, celebrating cars manufactured before the 1972 model year.

The show will offer a $350 first prize and $200 second prize for best in show, as determined by a judging panel, as well as a $100 prize for crowd favorite. Registration for the show will be held from 9 to 11 a.m., with the show running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Artisans will participate in a juried show featuring 13 categories, including clay, crafts, culinary, two-dimensional art, fabric, glass, jewelry, metal, mixed medium, painting, photography, soaps and lotions, and wood.

Several school clubs and area businesses and organizations will have tables with activities, including goldfish races, a photo booth and horse and wagon rides. Aktion KWEST will again have a miniature golf course, which will be held outside this year, and a 20-vendor food court will offer visitors a variety of delicious festival food.

Volunteers and artisans spent Friday making final preparations and setting up the festival both inside and outside of the school.

Tom and Belle Dole travel from Hamburg, N.Y., near Buffalo, to participate in ArtsFest each year with their business, Pinecone Naturals by Belle. They braved gusty winds Friday afternoon to put up their tent, which almost got away from them at one point. "I hope this isn't an indicator of this weekend," Belle Dole said.

The Doles said they looked forward to the bands playing at the festival this weekend and were happy their tent was located near one of the stages.

A variety of musicians will bring live music to ArtsFest on both days, from bagpipers and a steel band to country and folk artists, and many of the performers are Athens alumni.

Ben Franklin Crafts in Towanda will participate in ArtsFest for the first time this year, said store manager Jay Cory. Cory wanted to have a store tent last year, but ended up on a waiting list, "so I got my application in extra-early this year," he said.

The Ben Franklin tent will feature a free children's craft project, sun catchers on Saturday and sand art on Sunday, and craft demonstrations on both days, Cory said. Demonstrations will include card making, painting, cake decorating, knitting and crocheting.

The craft store is a perfect fit with ArtsFest, Cory said, and festival volunteers were instrumental in helping store staff with setup Friday. "We hope to be back every year," he said.

Athens ArtsFest will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine. The festival has free admission and parking, and shuttles will run from Athens Area High School to the festival grounds from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days.

For more information, visit www.athensartsfest.com or like Athens ArtsFest on Facebook.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.