Painting the city: Fifth annual plein air affair hits Grand Traverse | ETC

TRAVERSE CITY — This August marks Crooked Tree Arts Center’s fifth Paint Grand Traverse — the annual plein air affair that draws artists and art appreciators to the Grand Traverse region from around the country.

What began as an all-hands-on-deck and organization-wide endeavor in 2018 developed into a bucket-list festival for creators and collectors alike.

“The Grand Traverse region is overflowing with breathtaking scenery and inspiring views,” said Megan Kelto, CTAC vice president. “The shorelines, farms, wineries, and orchards; charming villages and downtowns; Sleeping Bear Dunes; the list goes on and on — it’s a plein air artist’s dream! For residents and visitors alike, it’s such a special thing to buy a painting that captures not just a beloved view, but a specific, magical Michigan summer moment.”

That’s what 36 artists from around the country intend to do from Aug. 14-21— set to work art-iculating the beauty they see onto canvas or paper in watercolor, pastel, oil, or gouache. Michigan-based artists and those from both coasts and everywhere in between will immortalize scenes, moments, details, and recognized locales with their unique styles.

“I’m really excited about the excellent field of featured artists we have this year, which includes a number of artists who are new to PGT,” said Kelto. “We (also) have a handful of Michigan artists who are in the Five Year Club. Notably, a wonderful artist named Elizabeth Pollie from Harbor Springs who has been an invaluable part of PGT since its inception.”

Years ago, as CTAC was laying the foundation for their plein air festival, Pollie was in the thick of it, connecting CTAC with artists from the national plein air circuit and providing invaluable insight.

“Many artists spend much of their time quietly in their studios. Plein air events are quite the opposite of this solitary lifestyle — they are simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating,” said Pollie. “Every year, I have watched this event grow as the year-round and summer communities have come to realize what a wonderful opportunity PGT offers them to build their collections and support the arts.”

Each year, the event has expanded to include more components and community engagement. To honor the fifth anniversary, CTAC is hosting a block pARTy at their Sixth Street location on Aug. 20, with free activities to celebrate with community members.

“We’ll have our Pint-Sized Paint Out for Kids in the morning, a Quick Paint Competition in the afternoon, and the public opening of the Paint Grand Traverse juried exhibition in our galleries,” said Kelto. “We’ll also have live music, food, and arts and crafts for kids.”

To many, fine art can seem intimidating, but one of PGT’s focuses is making art accessible to all. With artists painting out in the open, passersby can watch and ask questions, engaging with artists one-on-one, learning that art isn’ t just for one kind of person — that anyone can be creative and try something new.

The Pint-Sized Paint Out and Fearless First Timers workshop are just two ways that PGT encourages individuals of all ages to pick up a brush and translate the beauty of what they see before them.

“We’re proud that we run a well-organized event, with an experienced staff, amazing cadre of volunteers, and generous artist hosts. The artists know they’re in good hands during their time here and that our community values ​​their talents.”

When Paint Grand Traverse launched five years ago, CTAC organizers collectively crossed its fingers in the hope that the event would catch on and resonate with artists and the community — and it did. As a result, last year’s event was their most successful to date.

“Paint Grand Traverse has grown every year,” said CTAC Board Member Stephen Palmer. “It’s been wonderful to see it start as an idea and become one of Traverse City’s premier events. It has nationally-known artists, phenomenal art, and a week of great fun.”

“While the event might evolve, the soul of PGT is connecting artists and art lovers to each other and to this beautiful place we call home, and that’s the best part,” said Kelto.

The weeklong Paint Grand Traverse event incorporates classes, live demos, kids’ activities, art sales, exhibitions, and more. Each art purchase benefits the artist and CTAC, with proceeds supporting year-round arts programs and experiences for everyone.

“In times where we may find ourselves exhausted by societal chasms, there is a culture of sincere conviviality and generosity ever-present throughout the week. There is never a lack of support or quick-witted humor between participating artists,” Pollie said. “And through intense sunshine, torrents of rain, and every variety of Murphy’s Law imaginable, there will be an impressive array of new work beautifully framed and ready for purchase. Nothing is more affirming and rewarding than seeing paintings going home with new collectors.”

Grand Rapids-based Ken Cadwallader serves as this year’s juror for the Collectors Gala on Aug. 19, and the Quick Paint Competition on Aug. 20.

A student of Kendall College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Arts in London, Cadwallader is a past president of Oil Painters of America and a signature member of the American Impressionist Society.

“Paint Grand Traverse is an immersive experience that everyone can participate in,” added Palmer. “Obviously, there are multiple opportunities for collectors to purchase an excellent piece of art, but beginning painters can learn from experts, children can paint in the park, and visitors can experience a wide range of beauty our greater community offers.”

Visit for a complete lineup and schedule of events, to RSVP for demos, register for paint outs and classes, and purchase tickets for the Collectors Gala.

“I’m really excited about the excellent field of featured artists we have this year, which includes a number of artists who are new to PGT.” Megan Kelto, CTAC vice president

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