Artistic Array

East Lansing Art Festival celebrates arts, eats, community

East Lansing’s city streets were packed this weekend, not by the usual traffic of cars and buses, but by citizens, vendors and a lot of art.

From May 17 through May 18, East Lansing hosted its annual art festival, where 180 professional artists from around the country gathered to show and sell their art.

The festival showcased a wide spectrum of art — from paintings, sculpture and photography to clothing, homemade musical instruments to even bonsai trees.

East Lansing Art Festival 5/18/14

Hayden Fennoy / The State News

An annual tradition

While the festivities only lasted two days, the planning and preparation went on for months.

“It is a continual, year long process,” City Manager George Lahanas said.

Festival planners have their own office, staff and full time director. Lahanas said the preparation for the next festival happens immediately after the current one is over.

“Picking the layout of the site, working with downtown merchants, booking equipment and financials all have to be planned out,” Lahanas said.

Set up for the venue took days, with crews shutting down city roads before May 17 to prepare.

In addition to planning the logistics, the city must also decide which artists will attend.

A big part of the planning process involves selecting artists to showcase. The festival is a “juried art show” which means every vendor has been hand-picked by a panel from the East Lansing Art Festival.

The artists must fill out an application form with credentials, as well as sample art pieces they have made. Those applications are then reviewed by a board where they are ultimately chosen.

"(Having the juried show) allows residents to be around professional art. We feature high quality art from true artists,” Lahanas said.

This distinction separates the art festival from others where anyone can purchase a vendors pass if they have the money.

The board also chooses “emerging artists” that can attend and sell their art. The emerging artists are given the opportunity to show their art in an exhibit for the first time.

“It has been a really great learning experience for me ... I have sold some small pieces as well, so that is nice,” Lansing artist Matthew Holben said. For Holben, the show allowed him to get a public opinion on his art — allowing him to fine-tune his craft for potential customers.

“I would highly consider doing another festival after this. It was a lot of work, but I think the payoff will be definitely worth it,” Holben said.

Bringing the community together

For the college town of East Lansing, summer is usually associated with emptiness. With college students back at home, the life in downtown East Lansing is weakened. However, during the art festival the city is revived by a rush of local citizens as well as visitors.

“The demographics change and the local people come to the city,” Trisha Riley, owner of the local restaurant Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub, said. Riley says the festival is a big time for business.

“It’s kind of a lull right now, but today is always a good day for us. It’s always busy,” Riley said. The restaurant featured specials on “local favorites” specifically for festival-goers.

One East Lansing resident said that for her the art festival has become a personal tradition.

“I’ve been to maybe 10 or 15 art festivals,” East Lansing resident Debra Macarty said.

Macarty said the variety of art in the festival keeps her coming back year after year.

Embracing the local community is a big part of the Art Festival, but it also gives the city a chance to host outsiders.

“I think there are a lot of people who are coming here from outside of the town. I have overheard people here saying they are from Ohio and even Indiana,” Macarty said.

With the merging of city, business, locals and visitors — the East Lansing Art Festival gives the city an opportunity to work together and create a memorable weekend of not only art, but life.

“The festival is very energizing for the downtown. I’ve lived here my whole life and I can tell you that the festival rejuvenates East Lansing. If they could have a festival every weekend I would love it,” Riley said.

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