The 4th Annual En Plein Air Festival

A Visual Celebration of Light, Color, Community & Regional Inspiration

    icon May 23, 2018
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For the fourth consecutive year from Monday, June 11th through Saturday, June 16th,  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 4th 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 six-day mission.

Following the success of 2017's festival, which brought over 60 artists to the region, the 2018 Great Lakes Bay En Plein Air Festival will once again celebrate the art of plein air painting and the beauty of the Great Lakes Bay Region. Artists from around the nation will capture the diverse beauty of Saginaw, Bay and Midland counties, plus the weeklong festival will include kid's activities, speakers, workshops, quick paints, receptions, and fun for all ages across the region

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 Assistant Curator & Development Coordinator  Natascha Williams, “ “The Plein Air Festival has definitely made our geographic outreach larger. We have people from all over the country who look forward to the weeklong festival. Artists from Florida apply and join us and we have collaborated with every cultural organization in the region, where that is the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, the Midland Center for the Arts, or the Midland Farmer’s Market. This year, we are excited to be collaborating on a state-wide level with the Watercolor Society. We anticipate to have around 120 artists on display.

“We are delighted that the number of artists and collaborating organizations have increased each year,” adds Saginaw Art Museum Director Stacey Gannon.  “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 along with the Open and Student Class will award more than $8,000 in prize money. Each category will have their work on exhibition during the summer of 2018.

While artists are free to paint wherever they desire, designated locations have been set where artists can 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: Ojibway Island • Theodore Roethke House • Celebration Square Area including the Andersen Enrichment Center, Children’s  Zoo and Japanese Cultural Center and Saginaw Valley State University.   MIDLAND: Downtown Tridge Area, Dow Gardens, Whiting Overlook.   BAY CITY: Wenonah Park, Waterfront & Studio 23, Midland Street Historic District, Center Avenue Historic District.

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 at The Saginaw Art Museum Gardens, another in Bay City at the 3rd Street Star Bridge, and another at the Midland Farmer’s Market, as well as the Saginaw Children’s Zoo and Midland’s Dow Gardens.”

At the end of each ‘Quick Painting’ event the artists bring their work to the judging table and prize money will be awarded to the top three artists in each competition, so there are many opportunities for artists to win some money.

The judges for this year’s Quick Paint competition will consist of Sara Clark from Saginaw Valley State University, graduate student Eric Birkle, and Sarah Brandt from the Midland Center for the Arts.  Artist Geoffrey McCormick will be the juror for the festival.

“We will also be featuring three evening receptions, including a Kick-off Reception, an Evening in the Gardens, and a final reception celebrating the weeklong festival and the opening of the exhibitions,” adds Natascha. “We hope to continue to grow the festival and grow more attraction by hosting this event. It is such a wonderful opportunity for artists to come and enjoy Michigan’s weather in June and put their beautiful art on display.”

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,” reflects Stacy.  “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.”

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.”

Here is a complete schedule of events and itinerary for this year’s 2018 En Plein Air Art Festival.

Monday, June 11

8:00 a.m.: Registration at the Saginaw Art Museum

11:00 a.m.: Tom Trombley, Historian, Tour at the Saginaw Art Museum

12:30 p.m.: Tom Trombley and Guests Optional Lunch

3:00 - 5:00 p.m.: Quick Paint at SAM Gardens

Juror: Sara Clark, Professor, SVSU

5:00 -7:00 p.m.: Awards and event kickoff reception, meet and greet


Tuesday, June 12

8:00 -8:30 a.m.: Registration

TIME TBD: Artist Gathering at Bay City Discovery Preserve

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.: Quick Paint Bay City 3rd Street Star Bridge

Juror: Eric Birkle, Past SAM Curator, Graduate Student

9:00 – 10:00 p.m.: Awards Ceremony at the Public House, Bay City


Wednesday, June 13

10:00 a.m. -3:00 p.m.: Kids Day at SAM

11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Quick Paint at the Midland Farmer’s Market

Juror: Sarah Brandt, Assistant Curator, MCFTA

1:00 p.m. -2:00 p.m.: Awards Ceremony at Whichcraft, Midland

7:30 p.m.: Riverside Film Festival at the Saginaw Art Museum


Thursday, June 14

9:00 - 11:00 a.m.: Quick Paint at the Saginaw Zoo

11:00 – 12:00 p.m.: Awards Ceremony at the Saginaw Zoo

5:00 – 8:00 p.m.: An Evening in the Gardens


Friday, June 15

5:00 – 7:00 p.m.: Dow Gardens Quick Paint

7:00 – 8:00 p.m.: Awards Ceremony at Larkin Beer Garden, Midland

Juror: Julie Johnson, Director of Museums, MCFTA

SAM open until 8:00 p.m. for artist drop off

Saturday, June 16


7:00 – 9:00 a.m.: Artists turn in work at SAM

9:30 – 10:30 a.m.: Yoga by Kathryn in the Gardens

10:30 – 1:30 p.m.: Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy Volunteer Planting Day

3:00 – 4:00 p.m.: Michigan Water Color Society Talk and Awards, Juried also by Geoffrey McCormack

6:00 – 9:00 p.m.: Awards and Reception at the Saginaw Art Museum

Juror: Geoffrey McCormack


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