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Business backing expands for this year's Plein Air arts festival

By , - Last modified: June 15, 2012 at 9:14 AM
Susan Benigni-Landis, an artist from Fairview Township, York County, uses oils to paint a scene in Camp Hill's Willow Park last Thursday as part of the second annual Plein Air Competition and Arts Festival. Photo/Jim T. Ryan
Susan Benigni-Landis, an artist from Fairview Township, York County, uses oils to paint a scene in Camp Hill's Willow Park last Thursday as part of the second annual Plein Air Competition and Arts Festival. Photo/Jim T. Ryan

Birds chirp and sing in the trees above a babbling brook. Guitar music wafts through the park from the pavilion.

It’s the canvas for painters who took to Camp Hill’s Willow Park — among others around the West Shore — to sketch and paint in the expanded Plein Air Competition and Arts Festival last week.

The 2012 arts festival garnered more and larger sponsorships from area businesses, some saying Plein Air continues to benefit the local economy by having hundreds of people roaming around the downtown business district.

“A lot of people are picking this up who are business owners, who are not even right in the immediate (West Shore) area, because they recognize the value of this,” said Dave Reager, a partner in the Camp Hill law firm of Reager & Adler and one of Plein Air’s organizers.

Last year, Plein Air ran Friday to Sunday and broke even with a budget of $75,000, Reager said. This year, Plein Air had a budget of $120,000 and received $62,000 from 52 sponsors.

“Last year was not even near that,” he said of the number of sponsors.

The festival ran from an artist’s reception Monday evening, June 4, to artist displays and workshops Sunday, June 10. Most events took place Friday and Saturday, including the painting competition judging, music, quick-draw competitions for adults and children, and other events, such as glass-blowing demonstrations.

The events were better organized this year, said Susan Pera, an organizer and owner of Cornerstone Coffeehouse at 2133 Market St.

“So much of what we did last year was running by the seat of our pants,” she said. “But we’re more organized this year, because we know what to expect.”

Even new businesses were enthusiastic about the expanded festival because last year’s was such a success.

“I’m hoping we’ll see some impact,” Moe Zaghloul, the owner of Zag’s Pizza at 2201 Market St., said Thursday as volunteers began setting up for that night’s events in Willow Park, less than a block away.

Last year, Zaghloul said, he was remodeling the shop when Plein Air was held and looked forward to being open for business this year. Zaghloul also owns Santo’s East Pizza off Paxton Street in Swatara Township, Dauphin County.

More business sponsorships demonstrate people are aware of the return to the business community from helping host cultural events, Pera said.

Among Plein Air’s corporate sponsors were Swatara Township, Dauphin County-based Metro Bank; Lower Paxton Township-based Centric Bank; Upper Allen Township, Cumberland County-based Paytime Inc.; New Cumberland-based Navarro & Wright Consulting Engineers Inc.; and Radisson Hotel Harrisburg in East Pennsboro Township, Dauphin County.

Metro Bank has sponsored Plein Air for the past two years. Helping to develop downtown business climates around the region is important, spokeswoman Natalie Neyer said, but it goes beyond that.

“The support of culture and the arts in our communities is in line with Metro’s culture,” she said.

Plein Air was large enough this year that it hosted a traveling exhibit with $5 million worth of paintings by famous 19th-century artists from the Hudson River School, an arts movement centered in upstate New York and New England that drew its inspiration from wild American landscapes.

As Plein Air grows, the goal is to make enough from the festival to provide scholarships to Central Pennsylvania art students, Reager said. Final tally of the festival’s earnings was not complete by press deadline.

Because of the expanded format this year, the Plein Air organizing committee hired Camp Hill-based Kairos Design Group to manage the event’s planning.

“I think it was a great success in terms of attendance and participation,” said Renée Regal, a principal with Kairos.

Attendance was roughly 2,000 people, but tallies weren’t final, and the children’s drawing event had more than 130 participants, far more than expected. The invitation-only event Wednesday night to exhibit the Hudson River School art drew about 130 people at $150 a ticket, which Regal said was also better than expected.

Altogether, the expanded event presented a great opportunity for the arts and for businesses, organizers said.

Any time you have more people roaming around a downtown area, there’s a bump in business for shops, eateries and other establishments, Pera said.

“The only way you can drive (business) in any area is to bring people into the downtown, and events like Plein Air do that,” she said.

What is Plein Air?

Camp Hill’s Plein Air festival takes its name from the French expression, “en plein air,” meaning “in the open air.” It is most often applied to describe painting in the outdoors. The act of painting outside in the open air, as opposed to in a studio, is a popular form of art with thousands of clubs and movements worldwide, including festivals similar to Camp Hill’s around the U.S.

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