By Brian Donnelly
Work always begins on a Thursday. By Friday, an open grassy field flanked by trees is lined with stakes in the ground where 185 vendors then erect tents in symmetrical rows. Lining the old IBM parking lot, nearby roads, and highways are signs directing people to this annual phenomenon. This year those signs will read, “The 55th Annual Armonk Outdoor Art Show.”
“By the end of the day Friday after the artists have erected their tents, it’s like a miniature city,” said Stacy Wilder, one of four co-chairs and 300 volunteers, some of whom work year-round to stage the art show. Slated for Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, rain or shine, the nationally renowned show features 185 artists spanning 33 states, Israel, and Canada. The exhibits run the gamut, including fine arts – paintings, mixed media, printmaking, drawing, pastels, sculpture, photography/digital art, and wearable art – and fine crafts.
“It’s well-selected and juried, and even though it is fine arts and crafts there are things there for people with all different budgets,” Wilder, a 22-year resident of Armonk, said. “Whether you’re looking for a print that’s $50, or a bronze statue for many, many thousands of dollars, we’ve got a full range of quality art.”
Armonk resident Lanni Sidoti, 52, exhibits enamel jewelry and wall pieces. “I kind of consider it the highlight of the year,” she said, looking forward to her fourth time exhibiting at the show, which happens to be within walking distance from her home. “I’m very happy that I’m in it. Just because I’m in it one year doesn’t mean that I’m in it the next year.”
Even returning artists have to be juried in every year, with the exception of the award winners of the prior year. Hundreds of artists apply to be a part of the show, including more than 600 this year alone. Among those selected, 46 are new to this year’s show.
“We get to look at the cream of the crop and boil it down to who we think is really the best,” Wilder said. “So, we have a reputation for having really great quality work.”
The art show’s executive director, Anne Curran, has been working on the show’s administrative aspects since the beginning of this year. “The art show is a premiere two-day event that has broad appeal for corporate sponsors,” Curran says. “There is great value in sponsorships for all of us.”
Long-time volunteer and interior designer Susan Geffen said the show has, in years past, featured renowned artists like New York wire artist Skye Ferrante and Brooklyn painter Ken Solomon. His work has been shown at the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
“Some artists do it as a stepping stone to other things. For others this is how they sell their art,” she said.
The latter category includes Sidoti. “It’s my best show,” she said.
Geffen first attended the art show when she moved to Armonk in the early 1970s, a decade after its inception in 1961. The first show featured only a handful of artists displaying their work on the lawn of the Armonk Methodist Church bordering Main Street. As turnout grew through the years the show relocated to the parking lot in front of the library, and then again to the Legion Field behind Town Hall. In 1997 it moved to its current home at Community Park, the old IBM field, according to the art show’s website.
The last move, Geffen said, turned a nice community event into a nationally-ranked attraction. “Art Fair Sourcebook,” which Wilder called a bible for art fair exhibitors, named it among the “Prime 50” Fine Art and Fine Craft Fairs in the U.S. “Sunshine Artist Magazine” has consistently named it among the “Top Fine Art and Design Shows” in the New York Metro Area.
(L to R) Art Show Artist Liaison Judy Moniz; Executive Director Anne Curran; co-chairs Debbie Heidecorn, Marian Hamilton, Stacy Wilder, and David Africk; and co-chair advisor Susan Geffen. Photo by Andrew Vitelli
“It was the move that started it because we were able to contain the show so that we had an entrance, and we were able to charge an admission fee,” said Geffen, whose many volunteer roles include offering free personal consults connecting visitors with art that best fits their taste and decor. “So, we started to make more money, more money for the library.”
The show is sponsored by Friends of the North Castle Public Library, Inc. The proceeds, which Wilder said have topped $100,000 each of the past 15 years, benefit the North Castle and North White Plains libraries. Approximately 8,000 people visit the show every year, Geffen said.
“The Armonk Outdoor Art Show is the largest fundraising event that’s held by the Friends,” said Edie Martimucci, executive director of the North Castle Public Library. “And the impact that it has on our library is that it enables the Friends to help us with our programming.” In addition to supporting programs like the summer reading program, movie series, yoga classes and art lectures, the proceeds from the art show have funded many renovations and upgrades to the library. They include a new circulation desk and an interactive play and reading area in the children’s room.
Martimucci recently presented to the Friends plans to open an art gallery in the library. She hopes to open it in late 2017.
“We are a library that is a result of the art show and we want to have more cultural programming that reflects art,” she said.
First-time exhibitor Luis Perez, 54, will debut in style with a double booth. He will help run another double booth, which features the Byram Hill High School students exhibiting their work.
“Most high schools have great art programs and we want to pursue this wonderful experience for teenagers to know what it’s like to be a pro artist,” he said. High school artists have been an integral part of the art show for the last few years. This year they more than doubled in number from about 10 to 24. Perez plans to make it even bigger next year by inviting students from Valhalla High School to submit applications, too.
“I’ve always enjoyed seeing the show. I think it’s a really well put together show and the fact that I get to be a part of that is really exciting,” said Andrea Conrelius, 18, who was a part of last year’s high school booth.
While the Armonk Outdoor Art Show has grown into a city of a show in its 55 years, Geffen said it’s still the same “great hometown thing to do” that it was when volunteers baked pies, cakes and the much-loved art show brownies in the early days. Today, the show features a wide selection of food vendors.
“We all really like each other,” Wilder said of her fellow volunteers. “It’s a great group of people and it makes you feel good about where you live because you’re working with your friends and neighbors for a common cause.”
The art show is held at 205 Business Park Drive in Armonk and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, rain or shine. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for seniors or with coupon, while children under 18 get in for free. Visit www.armonkoutdoorartshow.org for more information.
Brian Donnelly was born and raised in Westchester. He is a freelance reporter, videographer and social media specialist, whose hobbies include riding bicycles, waves and rooftop hammocks.