May 15 2013 12:00 AM

East Lansing Art Festival celebrates 50 years of art and hometown feel


To commemorate the 50th East Lansing Art Festival, the annual event’s planners are taking full advantage of the late debut of spring. They know what locals want: to be outside again.     

“(Community members) have an enthusiasm and a dedication to this event that only mid-Michigan spring fever can create," said event coordinator Corinn VanWyck. "We´ve all been cooped up and are just waiting for the art festival to come.” 

In addition to the return of art vendors and music acts to downtown East Lansing, organizers came up with two pre-events to build up interest. In March and April, there was a retrospective at (SCENE) Metrospace featuring event posters from the last 50 years. There was also an ice cream flavor contest held in collaboration with East Lansing mainstay Melting Moments. The big reveal will happen Saturday, and festival attendees will be able to taste for themselves whether it will be Mocha Love You Cherry (chocolate/coffee/cherry), Food Fest (chocolate chip/raspberry) or Masterpiece (butter pecan/roasted pecans/peanuts). 

The festival was originally called Greenwich Village Days when it debuted in 1964. It was the brainchild of Mike Bidwell, a Michigan State University advertising student. He was seeking a membership drive for his advertising club, but the exact reason behind the name and goal are lost to history.

“I just wonder what they were thinking,” said Bonney Mayers who was festival coordinator from 1990 to 2002. Mayers, a freelance writer, is now part of the ancillary art festival group, Friend Of Our Festival. She´s also a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the event´s history. 

While she was coordinator, Mayers said the number of artists, and activities, expanded, as did the quality of art, which had help from the influence of the Fine Arts Commission, which instituted a juror system for the festival´s artists. Getting to watch the festival grow was one of the exciting elements for Mayers, who said that the festival is a cornerstone of the community.

“It has high-class art but a hometown feel,” Mayers said.

That rings true not only for the festival but artists as well, including Mason native Jody Delind, who has been participating for over 10 years, but has been coming for many more.

“I grew up going to the festival as the daughter of an artist,” she said. “Then as a teenager, to hang out. When I was old enough, I started participating as an artist.”

Delind, an obstetrician in Phoenix, creates “non-functional clay sculptures.” She said that this festival is a homecoming for her.

“It´s an opportunity for me to reconnect with my roots,” she said. 

Other artists may not have roots in the area, but this has still become a tradition. 

“(My husband and I) really like the art show itself and East Lansing,” said Julie Schwarz, photographer and part-time social worker. This is the third time the Sawyer, Mich., resident will participate. She said she hopes to be a part of it for many years to come. Schwarz also said that she likes that this festival has up-and-coming artists.

Those rising artists are part of the festival´s emerging artists program, which started in 2003 thanks to Leslie Donaldson, who coordinated the festival from 2001-’05. Donaldson is the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.

“It was an area and demographic that we really wanted to provide an opportunity to,” Donaldson said. 

While many of the festival´s elements are the same this year there will be a few differences. To encourage eco-friendly behavior, the bike valet service is being expanded. Pre-teens, who will have more activities than previous years, are also one of the new focuses. 

“I think that´s an age group that´s kind of tough to serve with activities,” VanWyck said.

The entertainment portion of the event will also be a little different with three venues spreading across the area. The artists´ booths will also line the street this year instead of the parking lot.

“Our festivals in general are a form of public art in our region, and helps define us,” Donaldson said. “I think the East Lansing Art Festival’s longevity is a testament to that.”

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

Main Stage%u2028
Saturday: East Lansing High School Jazz Band, 11 a.m.; Kelsey Rottiers and The Rising Tide, noon; Wally Pleasant, 1:30 p.m.; Flatfoot, 3 p.m.; Big Willy, 4:45-6 p.m..%u2028
Sunday, May 19: Gifts or Creatures, 11:30 a.m.; Tyler Vander Maas Sax Quartet, 1 p.m.; Root Doctor, 2:30 p.m.; Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle, 4-5 p.m.

Park (Albert and Abbot)%u2028
Saturday: Mighty Medicine, noon; The Whiskey Pickers, 1 p.m.; Buzz and Buster, 2 p.m.; The Appleseed Collective, 3 p.m.; The Kidd or the Deacon?, 4 p.m.%u2028
Sunday: Delicious Bass, noon; The Fascinators, 1 p.m.; The Jam Bugs, 2 p.m.; Ben Hassenger Trio, 3 p.m.; Deacon Earl, 4 p.m.

Children´s stage (parking lot)
Saturday, alternates: Suzuki music program, The Amazing Clark, Tales and Tunes by Tricia%u2028
Sunday, alternates: MSU Community Music School’s early-childhood program, Tim the Music Man, Pretty Shaky String Band