Art on the Rocks organizers prepare for event, by Jamie Lafreniere

Art on the Rocks organizers prepare for event
Each summer, Presque Isle Park transforms into an outdoor gallery with crowds of people strolling the beautiful shoreline as they choose from paintings, ceramics, jewelry and photographs. This year’s 49th Art on the Rocks (AOR) again will showcase local artists and talented vendors from around the country.
Work for the show goes on all year, and the committee starts working the week after the show to prepare for the following year’s event. The main committee consists of ten volunteers, but during the actual event there are more than fifty people at work behind the scenes. Most are volunteers, including local artists and instructors from Northern Michigan University.
Volunteer coordinator Sandy Quinnell also makes connections throughout the area tostaff booths, and Celsey Deo coordinates everyone from booth sitters to greeters. Some of the same volunteers have been pitching in for years. These AOR ambassadors also include NMU police academy cadets who manage to keep the crowd and the traffic in order.0707ah1
Another constant presence is show administrator Mary Earle. Her eye for detail and talent for coordinating events have served Art on the Rocks well. Former administrator Judy Johnson brought Earle on board shortly after she moved here.
The two connected when Earle contacted Johnson about copyright laws for a book she was publishing. Johnson was impressed with her production experience, since she had worked in Houston for GDO&W, Houston’s oldest and largest advertising agency. Johnson was so insistent that Earle get involved that she used to pick her up for meetings, and soon made her a cochairwoman.
“I’ve done it all over the years, so I know what each person has to do,” Earle said. “It started when Judy had to attend a convention out of town one year during the show and I filled in for her. Since then, I’ve been registrar, treasurer, grant writer and co-chair.”
Over the years, Earle has seen a lot of change in the event.
“Art shows have become a business,” Earle said. “You can’t imagine how much detail is involved with grant writing and budgets. It’s much different from an administrative point of view.”
Another of her main focuses over the years has been the issue of parking, which she simply said is a real hassle.
“Luckily, we’ve made two changes that make things a lot easier,” she said. “First, we’ve got the NMU students as our security and parking guards. Nobody wants to mess with them. They keep things perfectly in order. And second, we now pay $3,000 for air conditioned buses.”
The change to busing certainly has made an improvement. The streets and lots are no longer packed with unnecessary vehicles.
“You don’t drive right up to the castle at Disneyland, and this is no different,” she said.
There are several pick-up sites around the area and people are getting oriented to the change. Rich LaPlante is the transportation coordinator, and keeps everything moving at a steady pace.
This year’s transportation issues were aided by a new sponsor. The group at Founder’s Landing is donating $1,000. Show organizers also are asking that people donate $1 for the use of the buses to help defray the rest of the cost.
While other major sponsors include Jilberts, Vango’s, Lasco and mBank, funding for the show proves to be tight each year.
Earle said it’s constantly on the radar.
“I don’tthink people really understand the amount of money that goes into the show,” she said. “It takes $40,000 to put this show on.”
Most of the costs are covered by booth fees, but the show took a serious hit a few years ago when grant funding was cut in half as part of the State’s funding downsize for arts programs, and it leaves a huge gap to fill.
“We constantly have to adjust the bud-get and try to make things work,” Earle said. “We’re hoping to get some grant money for next year’s show, but you can never plan for that.”
One thing they can plan on is funding from the sale of posters and T-shirts. One of the key ingredients to each year’s show is the selection of the top design. Many people keep the posters as collectibles and look forward to the new artwork each year, which usually highlights a different medium each time. What does the committee look for in a design?
“Saleability. In these economic times we have to sell the poster and then we will raise money to give back to the art community,” Earle said. “People need to know when they buy a poster or T-shirt, that money goes right back into the arts here in town.”
Last year, they raised about $5,000 from the posters alone. They gave a $5,000 scholarship to Northern Michigan University and about $12,000 to the Lake Superior Art Association.
This year’s poster also marks a first in AOR history—the same winning designers for two years in a row. The 2006 Lake Superior photo is being followed by a gorgeous shot of the Northern lights from Brian and Shawn Malone of Marquette’s Lake Superior Photo.
“We’ve had an artist win twice before, but it was fifteen years apart,” Earle said. “Nobody’s ever come close to winning two years in a row.”
The Malones focus on Upper Peninsula landscape photography, and this year’s poster is sure to please all collectors. Their specialties include ships, lighthouses, camping and all things U.P. The duo is busy traveling to many art shows around the country this summer, but will be sure to make it back in time for Art on the Rocks.
The show will include eighteen other booths from Marquette artists, including the photography of Tom Buchkoe, watercolors from Katherine Brunet and Kathleen Conover, jewelry from Vicki Phillips, ceramics by Patrick Dragon and pottery from Ed Risak and Ryan Dalman.
“It’s going to be a smaller show this year,” Earle said. “The last three or four years, we’ve had over 200 booths, and that’s just too crowded. This year is much more manageable for both artists and people coming to the show. Everyone will be able to appreciate it and enjoy it more.”
And once again we will all be keeping an eye on the sky. Weather is always an issue with an outdoor show, and that point was brought home a couple of years ago when a tree fell on a booth after a lightning storm. Last year’s show also had to be cut short.
Earle says, “There was a huge storm coming through the area and it had already destroyed an art show that was going on in Wisconsin. The spouse of one of our artists was at that show and called ahead to warn us. When the storm made it to Michigamme we asked people to tear down and leave early. Something like that can annihilate everyone’s art work.”
But forecasts for this year’s event, both weather and profit margin, remain optimistic. Earle is constantly pleased with the level of work submitted for judging, and she enlists the help of local experts in picking the show’s winners. Judges get their score sheets and are free to explore the show, taking their time to give honest impressions and score accordingly. Each medium gets its own winner, and there also is a “Best of Show” category for the overall winner. It’s always a tight race.
Next year, Art on the Rocks will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary and plans are underway already. But there is plenty of time left for that.
“We’ve got so much to focus on this year that it’s hard to think what next year will bring,” Earle said.
It will be a great benchmark to reach, but each year’s show is considered a gala. It’s difficult to imagine them topping their already tremendous success.
—Jamie Lafreniere

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