LONG BRANCH: The prospect of another Memorial Day, just around the corner, can be all that many of us need to shake off the shackles of a long, cruel winter's polar vortex.
And for hundreds of artists, artisans and art aficionados throughout New Jersey and beyond, Memorial Day weekend could only mean one thing -- another opportunity to enjoy a day of light, color, activity, music, friendly people and good times, within the creative whirlwind of one of the Jersey Shore's most arts-friendly neighborhoods.
Returning for a 17th annual edition on Sunday, May 24 -- and presented once more at West End Park in Long Branch -- the annual Art in the Park event transforms the corner of Ocean and Brighton Avenues into one of the largest outdoor art happenings in the state; an art and artisanal crafts fair that emphasizes unique and original works over commercially produced "craft sale" merchandise.
Sponsored by the Long Branch Arts Council and Long Branch Historical Association, with support from the City of Long Branch, Art in the Park takes place between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., in a sunlit seaside setting that's just one block from the beach -- and within strolling or rolling distance of an eclectic menu of restaurants, taverns and eateries.
As if that weren't enough reason to stop by, there's also plenty of free parking in the neighborhood -- but as Art in the Park coordinator (and fellow artist) Mare Akana explains, the real secret of the event's success is the fact that " the artists love it...the quality of the work is uniformly high, and all sale proceeds go directly to the participants."
"If you're on the lookout for a unique gift, or something really special for your home, this is your chance to meet some of the region's most creative people, and talk to them, person to person, about their work," says Akana.
Last year's edition was among the most successful ever, with hundreds of visitors and more than 60 participating artists enjoying beautiful weather, live music and all-around good vibrations.
For Art in the Park 2015, the event sponsors will welcome a contingent of first-timers and return participants that include 2014 award winners Fred Mayr (sculpture), John McAllister (jewelry), Betsy Naumchik (works on paper), Demetrius Patterson (works on canvas), Mike Quon (mixed media), and Roz Weinberger (ceramics).
They'll be joining dozens of other returning painters, sculptors, jewelry designers and photographers -- as well as special guest canine artist and therapy dog Hoagy, who, accompanied by his handler Tracy Brennan, will be painting on behalf of a local charity. The Paul Marino Band will be providing live entertainment through the afternoon on the park's outdoor stage.
With room to grow for this year's edition -- and an entry deadline of Saturday, May 16 -- there's still time for interested artists to take part in Art in the Park 2015. Submissions are being sought in the categories of Works on Paper, Works on Canvas, Sculpture, Mixed Media, Photography, Ceramics, and Special Materials (including wood, glass or plastic). Honors will be awarded in all categories (guest juror will be gallery artist Wes Sherman of The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster, NJ), so whether you're a seasoned pro or a relative rookie, this can be a great opportunity to get your work before the public, in a supportive and highly visible setting.
"Our artists make the trip here from four states," Akana explains. "On behalf of everyone involved, we're ready to put on a fantastic event that holds all the passion and promise of the new season.
Full details on artist registration (including entry fee, locations and load-in time) and additional information on Art in the Park can be obtained by contacting event coordinator Mare Akana at email@example.com.