The 3rd Annual En Plein Air Festival

A Visual Symphony of Light, Color & Regional Inspiration

    icon Jun 01, 2017
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For the third consecutive year from June 12-17th artists from throughout Michigan and beyond will converge upon designated locations in Saginaw, Bay & Midland counties, each of them focused upon a goal of capturing the diverse and resplendent beauty of our region at the 3rd Annual Great Lakes Bay En Plein Air Festival, culminating in an expansive exhibition at The Saginaw Art Museum and other nearby venues that will showcase the resulting paintings from their five-day mission.

En Plein Air is a French expression meaning ‘in the open air’ that is used to describe the process of creating paintings in an outdoor environment.  Artists are free to select any scene within one of the designated locations and create a visual expression within a limited expanse of time that encompasses elements such as the atmosphere, changing light, ambiance, and temperature of their subject matter.  Plein air painting includes any subject observed outdoors, including but not limited to architecture, people, and landscapes.

According to Saginaw Art Museum Director Stacey Gannon, “We continue to expand the number of organizations involved and expect an increase over the 62 artists that registered last year, as we have added a Student Competition into the mix that will be held at Delta College. Artists are continuing to register, so we won’t have a final count until the date gets closer.”

“We are delighted that the number of artists and collaborating organizations have increased each year,” she continues.  “When we started this project our intention was for it to become a significant collaborative effort across the Great Lakes Bay Region, with the Saginaw Art Museum extending invitations to virtually every arts organization in the footprint.  We were pleased to have so many organizations join forces with us to put together a week-long series of events, exhibitions and activities for all ages.”

Anybody may participate in the festival, which features four categories of artist competition: Invitational, Open, Juried, and the newly developed student level. Registration is open to all artists, 18 years and older, currently residing in the United States. Media choices include: oils, acrylics, watercolors, gouache, pastels, charcoal or pencil, and mixed media.

Participating artists may submit up to three framed pieces for exhibition and jurying. The Juried and Invitational Class will award more than $5,000 in cash prizes. Both the Open and Student Class will award more than $1,000 in cash prizes. Each category will have their work on exhibition during the summer of 2017.

While artists are free to paint wherever they desire, designated locations have been set where artists can go to paint so that the public can be engaged with the process and witness the artists developing their creations. This year’s designated locations include the following: SAGINAW: Saginaw Valley State University, Ojibway Island, Theodore Roethke House, Celebration Square: Children’s Zoo, Japanese Cultural Center, Andersen Enrichment Center; MIDLAND: Downtown Tridge Area, Dow Gardens, Little Forks Conservancy; BAY CITY: Wenonah Park, Waterfront & Studio 23, Midland Street Historic District, Center Avenue Historic District; FRANKENMUTH: Downtown Covered Bridge, E. Tuscola St. Rose Garden, Grandpa Tiny’s Farm and the Weiss Centennial Farm.

Each of those designated areas will also be conducting a Quick Paint Competition where artists have an opportunity to participate for prize money and have two hours to complete a painting.  “Our quick paint events will be held in different locations this year,” notes Stacey.  “We will be doing one in the Cathedral District in Saginaw, and are partnering with the Saginaw Bay Land Conservancy who will host a picnic quick paint event at The Discovery Preserve in Bay City.” 

According to Museum Event Coordinator Emily Korn, “At the end of each ‘Quick Painting’ event the artists will bring their work to judging table and prize money will be awarded to the top three artists in each competition, so there are a lot of opportunities for artists to win some money.  Last year we did both of the Saginaw ‘Quick Paints’ in Old Town Saginaw, so this year we decided to move it over to the Jefferson Avenue area for something different, seeing as we’ve utilized Old Town for two years now and its important to switch up locations to retain interest and engagement from both artists and the public.”

“We are also making slight changes to the paintings that are selected for the juried exhibition,” adds Stacey.  “In the past artists were to submit three painting that they had produced during the week.  This year they will be able to submit UP TO three paintings – and it will be determined by the juror.” 

“We made this change because we felt that we had too many paintings of the same subject throughout the exhibition last year.  All were good quality, but we’d like the exhibition to have diverse subject matter.  We are also going to have the winning artist featured in a small “exhibition within an exhibition” moving forward.  This year’s winner will have a dedicated space next year to feature their work, which may or may not be strictly plein air paintings.”

This year’s juror will be Diann Benoit.  Diann will be selecting the winners of the Best in Show, 1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place, and 3 Honorable Mention awards for Juried Class, and 1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place, and 3 Honorable Mention Awards for Open Class, along with Student Class awards as determined by the final number of submissions.  Diann is a Scholarship Graduate from The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit and has participated in a number of one-man shows, group shows and juried shows. She has won numerous awards and Best in Show and has taught art for over 30 years. Her work has been shown at the Flint Institute of Art and the Northville Gallery.

In addition to the adult-oriented 18-years and up En Plein Air competitions, the Saginaw Art Museum is keeping true to their motto of ‘Take Part in the Art’ by hosting a Kid’s Day from 10 am – 3 pm on Monday, June 12th, geared towards getting youth inspired by the artwork of David Zinn. 

“We decided to transition from the Teen Night that we held at the Temple Theatre last year and open the lens to all ages by staging this new event with David Zinn,” explains Emily. “He will draw something in the garden here at the Museum and and hide the work in the gardens for kids to find, so this will create both a fun and educational opportunity to engage kids with creativity.  Everything we do with this festival is geared towards engaging the community and people that live within the region.”

Another notable feature will be this year’s Arty Soil Garden Luncheon on Wednesday, June 14th with speakers Zachary  Branigan of Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy and Andrea Foster of Little Forks Conservancy, which will be held at the museum from 11:30 am – 2:00 pm.  

The Little Forks Conservancy was incorporated in late 1996 by an all-volunteer board of directors who hoped to protect the area’s key land features for future generations. The Conservancy has completed projects in six counties surrounding in Midland. These projects range in size from a 10-acre riverfront preserve on the Chippewa River in Midland County to a 344-acre collection of parcels in Montcalm County protected through conservation easements.

The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy (SBLC) helps to preserve land and water quality across the Saginaw Basin and has 84 conservation project sites. This includes 9 public nature preserves, 71 privately owned conservation easements, and 4 outdoor recreation project sites. The SBLC owns and maintains 10 nature preserves that are open to the public, dawn until dusk, every day of the year, forever.

Ultimately, one of the more significant by-products of this En Plein Air competition is the plethora of original art that is created reflecting the beauty and and range of perspective that surrounds us in this natural setting that all of us in the region call home.  Many of the works generated from this festival are available for purchase so people can display them in their homes and offices. And while the Saginaw Art Museum cannot get involved with the actual sale of art, insofar as it is a nationally accredited museum, they can connect artists with people who might be interested in brightening up their professional offices & homes without outdoor artwork depicting the splendor of the landscape populating our region.

“One of the gratifying things that has occurred since we started En Plein Air is the positive feedback we’ve received from the artists who attend,” notes Emily. “There’s a lot of different Plein Air competitions throughout the United States and we’ve heard feedback from artists that attend a half dozen or more of these events that they are so blown away with the organization of our festival and all the things we have to engage not only the artists, but the larger community, that they place it at the top of the list.”

“We send out a list of local restaurants & hotels to all the artists with their invitation pack, and last year we had one artist attend that planned on staying one or two days, only ended up bringing her entire family here just because she was so impressed by our area, so I’d like to give the Museum a pat on the back for creating that type of engagement.”

When asked about the most challenging component involved with staging this ambitious weeklong event, Stacey points to the need for continuity balanced against keeping things fresh and vibrant each year.  “We have to change things up a bit each year so that it doesn’t get stagnant, and have talked about potential thematic subject matter in the future and creating a single subject to see the different perspectives artists bring to it.  We are also looking at how we might add music and other artistic endeavors into the mix.”

“I am so pleased with the impact we’ve had both educationally and economically,” adds Stacey.  “Many of the artists come to the area with their families and spend the entire week in, contributing to the local economy in the process.  Several have never been to this area of the State and have very positive comments about their experience here.”

For more detailed information about the 3rd Annual Great Lakes En Plein Air Festival, along with a complete schedule of events, please go to or check out their display ad in this current edition of The Review.







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