East Lansing Art Festival: 50 Years in 2013

The 2012 event was held May 19 and 20 and featured over 200 artists. According to Corinn VanWyke, arts program coordinator, “Our art festival is juried; artists who participate apply to participate, and their work is approved by a local committee of artists, gallery owners and other professionals. For 2012, we received over 500 applications and approved just over 200 of them. Because of this year’s road construction, we weren’t able to take quite as many as we would have liked. We have had up to 230 artists represented.

“In the early 1960s, the art festival started with just a few artists setting up their easels on the downtown streets and it has evolved into what it is today,” VanWycke adds.

The East Lansing Art Festival is a nonprofit event which is made possible through financial support of community members and businesses as well as arts grants funding. Artist and vendor fees cover administrative costs, and the City of East Lansing provides in-kind city services and office space. It is important to remember that the art festival is a standalone event responsible for raising all of its own funding. VanWyke is the only paid staff member; obviously, volunteers are essential and number upwards of 100 plus. The board of directors as well as those who sit on the artists’ jury are all volunteers, in addition to the numerous others who set up, tear down and work the days of the event.

“Our artists begin applying in September, and we accept applications through January,” VanWycke says. “Then in February, the panel begins meeting to take a look at each category of art. This activity takes place over the course of a week. As coordinator, I don’t vote, but am able to see every artist’s work as it goes through the process.

“And, even if an artist has been accepted in the past, they still have to reapply each year,” she adds. “The only exceptions are those artists who have won major prizes at our festival, and they are allowed to skip the application process for a limited number of years. Even though the procedure is more rigorous than some other art festivals, we have over 60 percent of artists returning from one year to the next. Thirty percent of our artists are from out of state, or are outside our three-county area.”

Artist awards range from $250 to $1,500 and are funded by sponsors. Awards include the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union Diamond award, the City of East Lansing award, the Student Book Store Painting award, the Raymond King award for painting, Best of Show Gallery award, M. J. Bauries Jewelry award and several honorary awards. Sponsors are listed in full on the art festival website.

Besides art of every form, the festival also offers a variety of activities and entertainment for everyone. An emerging artist program highlights the work of up-and-coming artists and offers them the opportunity to bring their work to the attention of the public. There is free music on two outdoor stages; music workshops on Sunday; children’s performances with magic, music, stories and fun; hands-on art activities for youngsters and a full complement of vendors offering a variety of food. Downtown streets are cordoned off, so there is ample space to walk, browse, admire and, just possibly, buy that perfect piece of art for your home.

VanWyke says, “It’s hard to know exactly how many people attend, but it’s estimated that we draw more than 70,000 over the course of a weekend. To make it easier for the attendees, there’s a shuttle bus from the Michigan State University parking lot on Farm Lane.”

The 2012 event featured art in 2-D mixed media; 3-D mixed media; ceramics; digital art; drawing; fibers, both wearable and nonwearable; glass; jewelry; leather; metal; painting; photograph; prints; sculpture; and wood. Surely something for every artistic taste!

According to VanWyke, “Artists like coming to the East Lansing Art Festival because they know the community appreciates, supports and values art.

“Planning is already under way for next year’s event, which will mark our 50th year,” VanWycke says. “While every art festival is special, we hope to make the 50th even more special. One of the things we are planning is a retrospective of all of the posters from the past 50 years. They are works of art in themselves. Each year’s poster drives the look of that event, and only a limited number are printed. We work with CiesaDesign for the art, and the posters are silk-screened by MacKellar Screenworks of Lansing. Other ideas are in the planning stages, including a documentary, in partnership with WKAR, covering the festival’s history. We’re looking forward to a great event in 2013.”

Plan now to be part of next year’s celebration, on May 18 and 19, of the 50th anniversary of one of the Lansing area’s premier events. A sunny spring weekend, city blocks full of art, entertainment, food and fun—don’t miss it!

Author: Jane Whittington. 
Photography: Terri Shaver.

East Lansing Art Festival

Corinn VanWyck, Arts Program Coodinator

410 Abbot Road

East Lansing




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