An art fair is a mixed marriage.

Juggling outdoor summer fun with juried
art competitions — bumping Barnum into Braque — leads to headaches most
people never think of. 

“We’ve been to events where the food is
right next to the artists,” Wisconsin photographer Linda Anderson said.
“The smell can go right into wood, paint and textiles. It’s terrible —
especially kettle corn.”

Look for Anderson at Booth 139 of 207 artists at this year’s 48th annual East Lansing Art Festival.

An avid specialist in Great Lakes
maritime images, Anderson does dozens of shows throughout the Midwest.
In the past three years, she has been most successful in the landlocked
heart of Michigan.

“East Lansing was fantastic for us last
year,” Anderson said. “Lansing is one of my favorite cities, even though
it’s not on a lake.”

Last year, the East Lansing Art Festival
got national recognition in a trade magazine, Sunshine Artists, which
ranked the event 54th among the nation’s top 100 art festivals.

Anderson credits the East Lansing Art
Festival’s diverse crowds, the introduction of fresh elements each year
and a tightly run ship. 

Traveling the art show circuit, Anderson
is familiar with problems like dead spots, bad placement of music and
lack of transportation. “There is not a bad location for an artist at
this event,” Anderson said.

Festival coordinator Corinn Van Wyck keeps it fresh each year and makes sure the kettle corn doesn’t waft into the weavings.

“Corinn thinks of those things,” Anderson said. “Her organizational skills are top-notch.”

With hundreds of artists, a board of
directors and about 60,000 visitors to please, Van Wyck has a big job.
She’s in her fourth year as coordinator, after working two years in the
children’s area.

Van Wyck was tested in her first year as
coordinator when a thief stole juggling props from Crazy Richard, a
longtime festival staple. Van Wyck ran through the labyrinth of booths
like Indiana Jones, chased him down and got the stuff back.

“She’s a real fireball,” longtime
festival music coordinator Wanda Degen said. “I don’t think any of us
would have had that much gumption.”

Van Wyck is pleased the Emerging Artists program ballooned to seven participants this year.

“We had such a great crop of people applying we had to make room for more,” Van Wyck said.

The Emerging Artists program offers space and recognition to artists who have never exhibited in a juried fine art venue.

The program, started in 2005, is building
up a track record of success. Two of last year’s emerging artists —
Becca Schlaff (see related story) and Katie Chichester — launched
successful art festival careers and were juried back into the festival
this year. 

“We’ve had people doing the festival for 30 years, and we need to make sure the next generation is coming up,” Van Wyck said.

The East Lansing Art Festival is a
nonprofit entity, separate from the City of East Lansing. Its funding
comes from sponsors, grants and artist’s fees. 

This year, 207 artists from across North
America were invited to the festival, 95 of them from Michigan. More
than a third of the invited artists are new to the festival.

Van Wyck and her staff are looking for
ways to broaden the range of expression in the festival. To that end, a
new category, non-precious jewelry, was carved out of the jewelry
category this year.

“If you’re going up against gold and
emeralds, it’s hard for people who are using non-traditional material to
get in,” Van Wyck said. “Some people are doing interesting things with
found objects or materials other than precious metals.”

In another tweak, the fiber category has
been broken up into wearable and non-wearable, to include wall hangings,
baskets, weavings and even paper creations that might get overlooked
because they can’t be worn. That kind of constant adjustment, Anderson
said, keeps the festival from getting stale.

“There’s never too much of one thing — photography, painting, woven art and so on,” she said.

Most of all, Anderson looks forward to schmoozing with the variegated crowds streaming by her booth.

“We get people from all walks of life — working
blue-collar, students, professionals. East Lansing is special that way.
They’re in good spirits, and you don’t have that at every art fair.”

East Lansing Art Festival
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, May 21; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, May 22
Downtown East Lansing