Organizers are hopeful that the Great Northern Art Explosion can still be held this summer
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Before becoming another event that is a casualty to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers for the second annual Great Northern Art Explosion have gone through the preliminary plans to showcase artwork this summer.
In recent weeks, community Memorial Day observances, the Frederic Music Festival, and Fourth of July activities have been canceled this year due to fears that gathering will spread the coronavirus, a highly contagious and sometimes deadly respiratory disease.
The AuSable River Festival, AuSable River Canoe Marathon, and Black Bear Gran Fondo have also been cancelled.
Organizers for the Great Northern Art Explosion, which is slated to take place August 8 through August 23, are hopeful that the event can take place as planned as COVID-19 cases decline.
In its inaugural year in 2019, artwork was featured in businesses in and near Grayling’s downtown business district. People were allowed to cast paper ballots for the people’s choice award for the artwork, which was also critiqued by a juror.
Instead of having business owners having to move merchandise to display the art, special venues have been selected this year. That will also allow people to maintain social distancing.
Artwork will be on display at the AuSable Dance Center, which has a sizeable place to feature the art. Sculptures and other mediums of art will be featured at the Paddle Hard Yard, which will be protected from weather but visible under one of the overhead shipping containers.
Sculptors will also be featured at other venues.
Organizes have talked to Linda Nickert about displaying art in the building she owns where The Brickery was located, if the space is not leased to other businesses.
And the DuBois Lumber building, located next to the Old Lumber Yard Shoppes, will be used to display sculptures and framed art.
Lights and hanging devices will be added to the building as it is rehabbed for the Great Northern Art Explosion.
“I think the artwork in that rustic setting is going to look really sweet,” said Terry Dickinson, the director of the AuSable Artisan Village.
The AuSable Artisan Village has partnered with the Kirtland Community College to put on the event this year.
Paddle Hard Brewing was the sponsor last year, but that business is under new ownership, waiting for licenses to transfer with state agencies, and has also been dealt a blow by COVID-19 at it is only open for carry out food orders.
Dickinson said asking other businesses to sponsor the event wasn’t even in consideration as the entire business community deals with the economic downturns caused by the pandemic.
“That is not in the playbook this year,” Dickinson said. “Everybody is hurting.”
Planners of the event also have reached out to the Grayling Promotional Association, which was a sponsor last year, as well the Rotary Club of Grayling, and Northeast Community Foundation.
“It has to be organizations and not businesses, and hopefully organizations that not have been severely damaged by the virus,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson and Anthony Neal, who is heading up the Great Northern Art Explosion this year, met with Dr. Tom Quinn, the president of Kirtland Community College, regarding the sponsorship in March. That was before educational institutions were forced to close and the stay-at-home order was issued.
Dickinson said event organizers were seeking an organization like the college to come on as a sponsor for multiple years, but the amount of funds that can be committed toward the event is still unknown as college officials deal with budget and tuition issues.
The deadline to file to have artwork entered into the Great Northern Art Explosion is Friday, July 10.
Dickinson said they want to give artists plenty of lead time to get their creative juices flowing.
“For an artist to create and prepare a piece of work for an entry like this, we have to get the word out there now,” he said.
Dickinson added that artists are a segment of the economy that is especially being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic since art fairs are not being held, art competitions are being cancelled, and performing arts can’t take place due to bans on gatherings.
As a result, the people’s choice award has been raised from $1,500 to $5,000 and juried prizes have been hiked from $500 to $1,000 to make it attractive for the artists as well to making it financially rewarding.
The juror for the Great Northern Art Explosion this year will be Detroit native Jef Bourgeau, an artist and curator who pioneered digital paintings on canvas using scanners and digital inkjet technology. He has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums across Europe, Asia, and the United States.
The way that event attendees cast their people’s choice ballots this year has also been changed. People will have to come into the AuSable Artisan Village art gallery and download an app on their phones. If they’re not computer savvy, they can pick up a paper ballot and fill it out and then return it at the gallery.
Artists will be encouraged to be at the site where their art is on display if people have questions about the art, to increase their ability to connect with the voting public, and possibly arrange for the sale of the artwork.
Dickinson had ordered personal protective equipment such as face masks, rubber gloves, and hand sanitizer as the AuSable Artisan Village prepares to reopen.
He acknowledged that there are still a lot of unknowns due to the virus, but said the organization and plans need to be in place for the Great Northern Art Explosion.
“We’ve got to move at this point,” Dickinson said. “We just can’t wait.”
Dickinson said art advocates and community leaders can only hope and pray they have done enough due diligence for the event to be held this year and prepare for an influx of people to view the art.
“If the program is actually going to happen, having no idea where we’re going to be at with COVID-19 in August, I’m hoping that we’re going to well down the backside of that curve,” Dickinson said.