By Vicki de Vries
Now in its 53rd year, the Armonk Outdoor Art Show has grown from its modest start with a few artists on the lawn of the Armonk Methodist Church to what Sunshine Artist Magazine, a nationally recognized magazine for artists, ranks as one of the New York Metro area’s top “fine art and design” shows. Going further afield, The Art Fair Sourcebook ranks the Show in the top 10% of art shows in the country!
With a crowd size of 8,000 and a spectacular gathering of 185 juried artists at Community Field, the Show has, indeed, become a phenomenon. Come September 20th – 21st, serious collectors and aficionados alike will wend their way around booths filled with artists displaying their fine art and fine crafts. But what makes the Show a true work of (he) art is its well- balanced combination of purpose, people and passion.
The Show’s raison d’etre is to raise money for the North Castle Public Library and its Whippoorwill Theater. In the past two years alone, over $260,000 has been raised for new technology, programming, education and entertainment projects, as well as for necessary infrastructure repairs and renovation.
Given the Show’s remarkable history and growth, Inside Armonk went behind the scenes to glean insights into its success story. Attendees, aka “patrons,” and artists had a lot to share.
The Sounds of Success
“People who aren’t familiar with the Show might think it’s a run-of-the-mill sidewalk art fair, but it’s far from that,” said Doug Borisky, who lives in Manhattan and makes the easy drive to attend the Show with his sister, a resident of the town of Millwood. “It’s a world-class art show!”
Fern Satin, who lives in White Plains, said, “I attend a lot of art shows, and without question, the Armonk show’s art vendors are superior to those in most of the other shows. I can always count on a nice mix of paintings, photography, and wearable art that is top quality.”
Chappaqua residents Paul and Barbara Jenkel appreciate their proximity to such a top-rated show, as well as “the diversity of the work that the artists present…. the Show is an interesting and fun event that we really look forward to each year!”
Clearly, these patrons deem the Armonk Outdoor Art Show a roaring success or they wouldn’t return year after year. But how do the artists themselves feel about it?
Watercolorist Rosalind Oesterle, who has won several awards over 30 years of being in the Show, said, “It’s really evolved into an unqualified success…in my opion, the Show only gets better and better!”
Prize-winning stone sculptor Matt Horner, a relative newcomer, echoes Oesterle, “It’s a quality show, well organized and seamless. All the work is excellent!”
Two other prize-winning artists, Hetty and Norman Metzger have returned every year since 2007 for good reason: “The organizers maintain a high standard and manage the Show very well,” said Hetty, who appreciates that “the patrons appreciate what we do and… are very art aware.” “Artists have to have a positive experience to participate in a show,” added Norman. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a long-term dedication to making things right for the people in the community, for the artists and for the patrons.”
So, exactly what is it about the dedication that has garnered such noteworthy praise?
Mastering the Art of Success
Five main co-chairs collaborate on all the aspects of the Show and work with over 300 volunteers including co-chairs of around 20 committees. Among the dedicated volunteers are members of the Friends of North Castle Library and current or past members of its Board. Everyone takes his or her responsibility seriously–from pouring coffee to running a food booth or the information kiosk and all the tasks in between.
“Planning for the Show is year round, “ said Stacy Wilder, the PR and marketing co-chair for the past five years. “When one show ends, the wheels start turning for the next year’s event.” Wilder utilizes social media, a variety of newspapers, New York radio spots and artist publications to reach the broadest audience possible.
“From the merchants’ and the realtor’s point of view, the Art Show is a great boon to the area,” said Marian Hamilton, co-chair in charge of corporate sponsorships since 2001. “It takes a lot of work to make a successful art show, but we have a lot of fun!”
Co-chair Debbie Heidecorn handles the budget and oversees the food, entrance/exit, and information kiosk committees. She credits the Show’s success to “all the people that come together as volunteers” and the “wonderful support from the Armonk Town Square.” Also serving as president of the Friends group, which sponsors the Show, Debbie said she “would love for younger people to get involved with the Show and eventually assume positions of leadership.”
Another co-chair ,David Africk, oversees parking, setting up booths, renting the Porta-johns, golf carts, big tents and chairs, and making sure the electricity and water are in full supply. Africk expresses the prevailing attitude: “I enjoy what I do and try to do it well.”
Ava Zukowsky, the most recent co-chair, is taking outgoing co-chair Stan Herman’s place. As “co-chair in training,” she said: “The Art Show is an extraordinary effort by volunteers, Board members, committee chairs and our business partners. It’s an opportunity for Armonk and North Castle to shine.”
The sine qua non of the Show, of course, consists of the artists and the awards. To ensure top quality art, there is the 14-person Jury Committee, composed of artists, designers, photographers, teachers and other professionals, while the two-person Judges Committee appoints three judges to evaluate the artists’ work.
Meeting twice a week from March to May, the jurors select artists for each of the eight categories: printmaking/drawing/pastels; oils/acrylics; photography/digital art; sculpture; watercolors; mixed media; fine crafts; and wearable art. This year, they reviewed over 300 artist applications, but accepted only 185, underscoring the Show’s extreme competitiveness.
Juror Judy Moniz is thrilled with the way the Show has evolved: “In the beginning, most of the artists were from Westchester and Fairfield County, Connecticut; but over the years, the Show has attracted artists from all over the country.” Besides evaluating an artist’s work, “we spend a lot of time talking about the art.”
Juror Susan Geffen, who also co-chairs the Raffle Booth, said, “It’s a lot of work, but it’s enjoyable, and the Show has put Armonk on the map!”
During the year, co-chairs of the Judges Committee, Jane Cahn and Phyllis Lashins recruit three new judges that must be professionally involved in the art scene as artists, photographers, art critics or art historians/curators. On day one of the Show, the judges score and discuss each artist’s work to determine the winners’ list, which includes Best of Show, along with First, Second and Third Place and Honorable Mention in each of the eight categories.
“Phyllis and I also prepare the award ribbons for the winners and give the judges an honorarium,” said Cahn. Their last task is to give the Art Show co-chairs the coveted award ribbons to hand out on the second morning of the Show.
Strokes of Genius
Clearly, hard work contributes to the Show’s stellar reputation, but so does the special pride the volunteers take in making attendees and artists as comfortable as possible. One touch of TLC includes giving the artists a goodie bag with snacks and water upon their departure from the Show. Another form of TLC is offering a host of eclectic selections at the Food Court–from the ubiquitous hotdogs to David Chang’s fare (think: Momofuku restaurateur).
Families appreciate special activities geared to children, including a scavenger hunt. Debbie Bernstein, who first began attending the Art Show 17 years ago, said, “When my children were in school, they enjoyed the arts-and-crafts tent and the juried high-school art exhibit.”
And attendees with a decorating need can work with either an onsite interior designer or personal shoppers, all equipped to help lend an experienced hand.
Nothing has been left to chance, not even the whimsical artwork that graces the walls of the Porta-johns, courtesy of long-time volunteer Susan Geffen, an interior designer by trade.
“Sometimes Susan uses pretty photos,” said Co-Chair Marian Hamilton, “but one year, she really amused all of us by putting up nicely mounted pictures of skunks. Another year, it was playing cards shaped into a royal flush fan and framed for each unit.” It’s the little touches that count in life and no less in an art show, but they take conscious effort, sensitivity, passion and good humor–the essentials of this Show of genius.
While everything seems to run effortlessly at the Armonk Outdoor Art Show, the inside story reveals levels of concerted effort and fine attention to detail that, in and of themselves, are quite remarkable.
Indeed, “many hands make light work,” or as Stacy Wilder framed it for Armonk, “The Art Show is a great example of how an entire village–residents, businesses and municipal workers–can come together to make something great happen.” And to think that it’s all for a worthy cause!
Vicki de Vries is a freelance writer/editor and educator who hopes the entire county makes a pilgrimage to the Armonk Outdoor Art Show this year.