The East Lansing Art Festival (ELAF) is a spring tradition for local residents as well as visitors and artists from all over the country. This year’s event, in its 60th year, returns this weekend, Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21, to Albert Avenue in downtown East Lansing.
The festival runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and will feature art, crafts, demonstrations, live entertainment, food trucks, family activities and more.
City of East Lansing Art Festival and Arts Initiative Coordinator Heather Majano has been in her role for almost four years. She has been involved in a range of art festival formats and sizes, given the coronavirus pandemic’s impact.
“Going into 2020, we were planning the same size scale event that the community had grown accustomed to. But we ended up taking it completely virtual in 2020, and switched it to just one day,” Majano said. “Coming back to a more average year in 2021, we postponed the festival from May to August, and it was half the size. It was important for us, for the continuity of the festival that it would continue, but also that we could still support our artists through an event and assure the community that we were keeping their safety in mind with the size of the event.”
In 2022, the festival was held in the traditional month of May and the community response was great, Majano said.
“Many artists said it was their best year,” she said. “Both of the last two festivals, in 2021 and 2022, we also did a lot of virtual content.”
This year, she’s happy to report another “business as usual” in-person, large-scale festival, no virtual lineup, and an anticipated 60,000 people in attendance.
Part of the festival’s mission is to bring high quality art to the streets of East Lansing and to enhance the community’s appreciation of art, culture and creativity.
“Anybody and everybody can come down, check it out and kind of use it as a free museum,” Majano said. “We find that many people come down because it’s a free cultural event that isn’t something they would normally do. A lot of people are uncomfortable going to museums or art galleries.”
Of course, artists are also there to sell their unique creations. Typically, the festival hosts 150-180 artists at the downtown site, according to Majano. Mediums range from 2-D and 3-D art, ceramics, digital art, drawings, fiber, glass, jewelry, paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, wood and metals.
For many artists, exhibiting their art in a booth here is an annual event. But for others, this year marks the first time at the festival.
“This year, when we were looking through the applications, we noticed there were a lot of new applicants to the festival, so there will be a lot of new faces,” Majano said. “We have an emerging artist category, which invites people who have never shown at a fine art festival before, the chance to come out. They pay their application jury fee ($25-30), and we do the rest. They don’t have to pay a booth fee and we provide them with a tent, space, and tables and chairs.”
One of this year’s emerging artists is EJ Kipp, 31, out of St. Johns, Michigan. The father of three works as a chemist at a cannabis testing lab. During college at Central Michigan University, he studied biology and took several design and printmaking art classes.
Kipp talked with ELi about his preferred medium – printmaking.
“I respect printmaking on a fundamental level,” Kipp said. “I try to do everything right, no cheap materials, everything hand carved or engraved, acid free thick cotton wove paper so it doesn’t yellow, oil based inks, pencil signed true editions, hand torn paper with deckled edges. My preferred method is linocut, because of the ease of carving and the boldness of the final print. Linocuts are basically large stamps that have ink rolled onto the surface and transferred with a press onto paper. I also regularly create wood engravings, etchings and monotypes.”
Kipp describes his style as confident, bold, rich and clean. He has attended the festival in the past and always wanted to participate as an artist versus spectator. But the cost to participate was a barrier.
“The opportunity presented by the ELAF for emerging artists is the only reason I am able to participate this year,” Kipp said. “My goal is to purchase my own tent and attend the following years as a regular vendor.”
The printmaker looks forward to chatting with other artists and attendees.
“Talking to people about art is always fun and this provides an opportunity to show my friends and family what I have been working on for years,” he said.
Aside from art, the festival also hosts a variety of live performances and entertainment on the Jackson National Life Main Stage at the corner of Albert Street and M.A.C. Performances this year include the Michigan State University Department of Theatre, East Lansing High School Jazz Band, Risky Music Group, music from Grace Theisen, and more. The full schedule can be found here.
The two-day event also features artist demonstrations in the Fountain Square area, complete with basket weaving, photography, ceramics, painting and multimedia in the lineup.
“We applied for a cultural arts grant this year and received it,” Majano said. “We will have Jenna Wood, who is an indigenous basket weaver at the artist demo area. She will be weaving, sharing her process and culture with viewers. We’re very excited about that.”
The festival runs at the same time as the annual MSU Spring Arts and Craft Show on the grounds of the Michigan State University Union, across Grand River Avenue at 49 Abbot Road.
The ELAF is made possible with help from many volunteers. There are still some available tear-down volunteer shifts available.