Taking it to the streets: Navigating the 59th East Lansing Art Festival

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After the East Lansing Art Festival (ELAF) went digital in 2020, and then hosted a smaller footprint in 2021, local art aficionados can rest assured that the 59th annual event is returning and is “pretty much back to business as usual,” according to ELAF coordinator Heather Majano.

“We have 171 artists on site, two full days of performances, interactive opportunities with artists at the artist demonstration area, and eight food trucks,” Majano said. “On top of that, MSU’s Art Fair is also back this year.”

Typically, the free event draws around 60,000 attendees to the streets of downtown East Lansing. For 2022, Majano said she expects that or an even larger crowd. Extra sanitation stations will be set up while additional cleaning volunteers will be on duty at the food court in the Bailey Street Parking Lot (129 Bailey St.).

“As far as social distancing, there aren’t currently any requirements on that from the Health Department,” she said. “If that changes within the next week, we are definitely going to follow those guidelines. We’re just encouraging people to do what they feel safe with, so if that means wearing a mask, then please, by all means, wear a mask.”

For those still not comfortable attending the large-scale event in person, the festival offers a solution. “We have virtual offerings on our East Lansing Art Festival Facebook page,” Majano said. “There are still many opportunities for you to be a part of the festival if you can’t be on site. We have all of our artists online, so you can go to their website and purchase directly from their shops.”

But, for those looking to get out and explore the bustling streets, there will be plenty to look at. At the heart of the festival, of course, is art — and there’s plenty of it. As usual, there are juried fine art and craft exhibitors from all over the country. This year’s roster is diverse as ever and includes ceramics, paintings, mixed media, fiber art, digital art, wood, metal, photography, glass, jewelry, printmaking, photography, sculpture and metal art.

As for live entertainment, it’s also a mixed bag. The Jackson National Life Main Stage in the Ann Street Plaza (on the corner of Albert and M.A.C. avenues)will host musicians, puppeteers, magicians, hula hoopers, and Native American dance and storytelling performers. Across the way, in Fountain Square, outside of the East Lansing Marriott, festival-goers can take in a stacked schedule of live artist demonstrations.

New this year

Although the festival celebrates a long history of tradition, Majano said this year’s ELAF includes a few new exciting components — including a larger-than-life installation at Albert and Division Street.

“The East Lansing Arts Commission and their cultural arts grants are funding this floral art install by Sparrow Bloom Co., a local florist,” she said. “It will be a great opportunity for selfies, quick family photos, and photos with your friends. There’s usually a really ugly barricaded turnaround for the parking garage. This will help make it prettier and beautify that corner.”

Majano added that a locally based software development company, utilizing the latest technologies in virtual and augmented reality, will also be in the artist demonstration area, adding a fun, techie facet to the weekend.
She said the company, GL Reality Labs, usually works with movies. “They have virtual reality goggles, so artists can actually design 3D art in a virtual reality. Kids will be on stage with goggles, and you’ll see on the video screens behind them — they’re actually building and creating art in a virtual reality, making it come alive and interacting with it. It’s going to be this cool opportunity to see the next wave of digital art.”

ELAF artist spotlights

While artists from across the map will be at the festival, City Pulse caught up with three locals who will be on hand, showing and selling their work.

Steph Joy Hogan was voted the Top of the Town best artist in 2021. The local artist will be at the 59th ELAF.
Steph Joy Hogan was voted the Top of the Town best artist in 2021. The local artist will be at the 59th ELAF.

Steph Joy Hogan

A familiar name in town, Steph Joy Hogan was voted the Top of the Town best artist in 2021 and in the Top 3 in 2018, 2019 and 2020. This Lansing-based 2D mixed-media artist uses acrylic ink and paint, found paper scraps and hand-painted paper to create vibrant, colorful pieces.

She has been a featured artist at ELAF every year since 2018, when she was awarded an “emerging artist” tent. Hogan said she is thrilled to reconnect in person this year.

“The East Lansing Art Festival is always a favorite because I get to create those connections with people local to me, and it’s just very special,” Hogan said. “I find these interactions so energizing and really fueling and inspiring for my creativity.”

Although some shoppers might shy away from talking with the artists, feeling awkward or nervous, Hogan, 46, said she encourages festival attendees to chat it up with vendors.

“It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to put yourself out there and share the art you’ve created, and it’s so validating when people show interest in your work,” Hogan said. “I highly recommend saying hello and complimenting work you like, even if you don’t plan to make a purchase.

“Most artists love to talk about how and where they work, what inspires them, what they’re working on next, and more,” she added. “Ask us which is our favorite piece and why. Tell us which is your favorite. You’ll definitely hear a lot of fun stories.”

Diane Mater’s brand, MaterJewelry, will be featured at ELAF.
Diane Mater’s brand, MaterJewelry, will be featured at ELAF.

Diane Mater 

Diane Mater, a first-year ELAF artist, has a diverse resume when it comes to art. The Lansing resident has been a painter, woodworker and, a few years ago, also started jewelry making. Now, her repertoire includes handcrafted sterling silver, gold, and pearl rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. “Most of my pieces are fairly simple in style,” Mater said. “They’re not flashy or grandiose,”

Mater, 59, said she operates MaterJewelry out of her garage, cutting out shapes, soldering and polishing stones and gems. Some simple pieces, like silver rings, can take an hour or so to create. Meanwhile, other complex works, like pearl brooches, can take upward of 10 hours. Her items range $10 to $400, but most come in under $60.

“It’s more everyday jewelry, except for a few pieces,” Mater said. “Overall, I would describe it as everyday jewelry, with a bend towards the mid-century modern aesthetic.”

Daniel J. Hogan
Daniel J. Hogan

Daniel J. Hogan

A Lansing artist who works with ink and watercolor to create drawings and comics, Daniel J. Hogan is known for his whimsical cartoon-based work. His first time as a vendor at the East Lansing Art Festival was in 2018, alongside his wife, Steph Joy Hogan. Last year marked a recording-breaking sales weekend at the ELAF for the cartoonist.

“I get a lot of kids in my tent because of my cartoony work,” he said. “It’s always great when they see a piece and say how much they love it or want it. Whenever a parent says their child likes to draw, I tell them to keep drawing.”

Art by Daniel J. Hogan
Art by Daniel J. Hogan

While some of his most memorable stories from festival interactions include meeting the next generation of artists, Hogan, 40, said he encourages artsy folks of all ages.

“I only started cartooning 10 years ago at age 30. It’s never too late to start making art,” Hogan said. “I get the ‘I can’t even draw a straight line’ response from many guests, and I reply with, ‘So? I don’t care about straight lines. Straight lines are boring.’ It’s the same reason I don’t go for realism in my art. I’m not interested in realism or looking like a photograph. Draw stick figures — that’s how I started.”

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