The First Timer’s Visit to the EL Art Fest (So that’s what the buzz is about!)
by Shannia Sumugat
As an avid sports fan, I usually spend my summer weekends watching a baseball game or the becoming engrossed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Encouraging me to try something new, Dave Isbell mentioned a popular summer event happening in downtown East Lansing over the weekend: the East Lansing Art Festival. I had never heard of the event (clear to him by the blank look on my face), so I took his suggestion and agreed to head down to the festival to see what it is all about. At the very least I saw this as another potential “Spartan experience” I could have during my time as and MSU student.
Now in its 48th year, the East Lansing Art Festival symbolically kicks off the EL summer with the convergence of cultures and tastes in art, food, and music. It exposes the loyal love of the arts in the Greater Lansing area and is consistently ranked as one of the top 100 art festivals in the nation. Completely free of admission and filled to the brim with exposure to artists and musicians of all ages and mediums, the festival is held dear in the hearts of many Michiganders. Many alumni return to the area solely for the festival and its all-ages entertainment offerings. I now realize why: it is fabulous.
As I walked down Grand River, approaching the corner of Abbott and M.A.C, I was immediately taken by the number of booths, vendors, and people blocking off the streets. The festival has hundreds of vendors and booths displaying and selling art, photographs, and paintings. From pottery to paintings to jewelry to the finest of lawn ornaments—if it is beautiful and can be hand-crafted, it is likely represented at this festival. Knowing I wouldn’t be spending much money, I decided to wander through and see what draws in the large crowds each year. Besides diverse works of art for sale, the event also features musical entertainment from local bands. Ranging from classic folk to acoustic blues (and tossing in the East Lansing High School band for a set or two) the variety of music was absolutely perfect for a sunny day out in East Lansing.
Despite my attempts to pull away from sports for the day, I must admit it warmed my heart a bit to discover the booths with classic sports posters and photographs of former Red Wings and Tigers players. I spent an hour there, mesmerized by all the vintage black and white photos, until I became distracted by a group of anxious children running around and shrieking excitedly. My curiosity kicked in; I had to see what the commotion was all about. It turns out the festival also offers face painting booths for kids (and adults too!) to add to the diverse merriment opportunities of the Art Festival. This event is not meant only for students (in fact, there is no affiliation with MSU at all); families, alumni, tourists, and residents of the Greater Lansing area make up the majority of the patrons coming out each year. The diversity of vendors and entertainment lends itself well to the crowd— nearly 80,000 people attended the weekend festival in 2010, so they have to be doing something right.
As I wandered through the blocks of downtown, admiring the gorgeous art and absorbing the vibe of free music in the streets, the impact of the event hit me. The inspiration of the festival flows through the air as the diverse demographics come together in a common love: art and sunshine. If there were one piece of entertainment I would recommend to every student’s Spartan experience, it would be this festival. The festival weekend, born out of a love of art and hopes to make it accessible to the public, lives with a magnetic energy—pulling people in from all ages and walks of life. Simply put, it has everything you could possibly ask for on a sunny summer day. Entertainment, food, and your friends, yes—but a love of all things beautiful is the proponent of its existence year after year.
After my inaugural art festival experience, I wanted to take some time to learn more about this fantastic event and what goes into shaping it. I had the opportunity to speak with the Arts Program Coordinator Corinn VanWyck. Under the false assumption that East Lansing supports the festival, VanWyck dropped the knowledge that the festival is in fact a nonprofit event, “we must raise funds through fees, donations and grants each and every year to make it happen,” she mentioned during our discussion. Artists hailing from all over North America apply for booths (less than half make the cut) and bands audition for playing time. The Arts Council of East Lansing ventures an incredible amount of work to ensure this iconic event continues year after year under the fuel of a common inspiration: Making art accessible to the community.
Consider me another regular attendee of this amazing event!
Shannia Sumugat is from Chicago, but has found out she likes Michigan more than she thought she would. She is entering into her Senior year as a Communications major at MSU. Additionally, she is one of the Executive Council Members for the Student Alumni Foundation and is the brand new Communications Assistant for MSU Alumni Career Services.