What's New and What's Not at the 2018 East Lansing Art Festival

Friday, January 19, 2018, 7:05 am
Jessy Gregg

The East Lansing Art Festival is gearing up for its 55th year, and preparing to move to a new location on the eastern side of downtown. This year's dates will be May 19 and 20, and organizers are now taking applications for artists, emerging artists (those who have never shown at an art festival before), and poetry to be included the ELAF’s 3rd annual poetry compilation.

Over its 55 seasons, the East Lansing Art Festival has grown from a small gathering of artists exhibiting on table tops in an alley to a festival which consistently makes the top 200 festivals, as ranked by Sunshine Artist, a trade magazine for art festival vendors. According to Festival Director Michelle Carlson, the event, which annually takes over East Lansing’s downtown for two days in the middle of May, pulls in upwards of 60,000 visitors from around East Lansing and the surrounding areas.

Because of the construction underway on what was formerly the Albert Street parking lot, the Festival is relocating to the eastern side of downtown between the Bailey Street parking lot and M.A.C. Avenue. The bulk of the artists will be exhibiting along Albert Avenue.

The main stage for musical performances will now be in the Bailey Street parking lot, behind the Peanut Barrel. Also in that lot will be the food court. 

The Festival is in the process of receiving a temporary liquor license from the state, which will allow them to have a beer tent near the main musical stage. Alcohol sales would be a new source of revenue for the Festival, which is a non-profit endeavor funded through vendor fees and private and corporate sponsorships. The beer tent has led to discussion at the Downtown Development Authority about balancing the need to help the Festival make ends meet and not taking away potential business from downtown restaurants and bars.
Although “East Lansing” is in the Festival’s name, it’s not a City of East Lansing event, but the result of a public/private partnership run by a volunteer board of directors. According to Carlson, the Festival does not receive monetary support from the City of East Lansing.
"'East Lansing' refers to the festival's home, not the city government," says Carlson. "The festival does pays the City for the services it receives, and the City does offer some in-kind support."
The Festival hosts approximately 175 artists, whose work is selected from all of the applicants by a jury of local artists and art experts. Carlson says the primary limiting factor is space.
In addition to fine art, the Festival also will host a children’s art area where young Festival-goers will be able to get hands-on experience with art creation and performance. Because of the popularity of this area, which attracts several thousand children each year, the sponsors have had to switch their focus from individual “make and take” projects to large community projects which can be worked on by many different people.

Sponsors for the children's art area include Reach Art Studio and Happen Dance as well as the Lansing Art Gallery, Impression 5, and WKAR. The Festival also received a Cultural Arts Grant for this area from the City of East Lansing, through the East Lansing Arts Commission.
This year the Festival will also include an arts demonstration area where visitors will be able to chat with local artists and observe their creative process. The demonstration area also includes a stage for poetry and short fiction readings, and visitors will be able to purchase a copy of the Festival’s poetry collection.
There are many opportunities for people to get involved with this year’s Festival. Artist applications are open until the end of January, and the Festival is always looking for new donors and volunteers. For more information about any of these opportunities, go to the Festival's website at elartfest.com


Disclosure: Jessy Gregg is a volunteer member of the East Lansing Art Commission and has been an exhibitor and juror at the East Lansing Art Festival.


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