The Lexington Art League is determined to help Central Kentucky become renowned for visual art.
That's why the organization is stepping in to help Equus Run Vineyards and the community organization Midway Renaissance Inc. produce this weekend's Francisco Farm Arts Festival in Midway.
"Francisco's Farm is a huge attraction in Midway, and our participation is aligned with our vision to make visual art the lens through which Central Kentucky distinguishes itself as a progressive, inclusive and vibrant region," said Stephanie Harris, LAL's executive director.
The festival is at Equus Run Vineyards, where it moved in 2011 after several years at Midway College, and it features artwork, arts demonstrations, live music, family activities, food and wine.
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The juried event is only 9 years old, but it has gained a regional and national following. The two-day festival attracts more than 7,000 art lovers each year and has earned several professional accolades.
Last year, it was named a top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society and a top 10 festival by the Kentucky Tourism Council. It also has been recognized by American Style Magazine as a top-10 art fair and festival.
Part of that success was thanks to event coordinator Marcie Christensen. When she left this year to pursue what Francisco's Farm committee member Dean A. Langdon called "an offer she couldn't refuse," organizers scrambled to fill the gap.
On the heels of Christensen's departure came a shake-up in the leadership of Midway Renaissance. Preparations for this year's festival were delayed as a result.
"The Francisco's Farm committee considered a number of options, but once we reached out to LAL and they expressed an interest, it seemed like a natural partnership," says Langdon, a board member and former president of LAL.
One of the main benefits of partnering with LAL is that the Lexington group has done this kind of thing before — many, many times.
LAL has organized the huge Woodland Art Fair for three decades.
"Partnering with LAL gives the Francisco's Farm committee and the Midway community a working relationship with an organization that has experienced staff and volunteers," Langdon says, "plus the infrastructure to produce an event like the Woodland Art Fair, where 60,000 people attend."
The LAL also has working relationships with many of the artists involved, inspiring their confidence in the event's continued success.
"I love having the Lexington Art League as a co-sponsor," pastel landscape artist Marianna McDonald says. "They definitely know what they're doing and they have great connections to sponsors."
Artists including McDonald and equine and landscape artist John Snell depend on art fairs to sell work and build community connections among other artists and patrons.
"For me, art fairs have been the best venue for selling my work," says Snell, whose images of Red River Gorge and Keeneland are popular with Central Kentuckians.
"The fact that all of these shows are very selective in which artists are invited to participate ensures event attendees that they'll get to see top-notch artistry and craftsmanship," Snell says of the jury process.
About 100 artists will be featured at this year's Francisco's Farm festival. That's slightly fewer than in recent years.
"We also scaled back the music a little so patrons will have enough time to see all the art and crafts," Langdon says. "The layout will be different also, which we believe will make it friendlier for both the artists and the patrons.
"Francisco's Farm will still have great art and crafts, local musicians and food vendors, and the wonderful Equus Run wines will be available, too. We will still have a Kids Zone and will continue our tradition of helping artists unload and load their work if requested."
Snell appreciates that kind of help.
"One of the things that has perennially impressed me about this show has been the enthusiasm of the corps of volunteers who are there to help us unload, set up and help in any way possible to make the show a successful and enjoyable experience for us," he says. "They don't always get the credit they deserve, so I want them to know how much we do appreciate them."