Erin Petersen
Art under Glass

The 2011 Milwaukee Domes Art Festival

By - Aug 16th, 2011 04:00 am
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“We want to make the Domes a destination again,” Steven Libbey tells me as we tour the grounds of the Mitchell Park Conservatory. In just a few days, roughly 7 acres of the park will be transformed to host the second annual Milwaukee Domes Art Festival, a full weekend dedicated to art and artists in Milwaukee.

Libbey, the festival director, says he hopes the event will not only bring attention to Milwaukee’s art community, but also to the Domes themselves, one of the city’s cultural landmarks and architectural gems.

The Conservatory first opened as a public greenhouse over 100 years ago, and its signature glass domes were completed in the late 1960s. At that time, Libbey says the Domes saw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. In recent years, however, attendance has decreased, and as such the nonprofit organization Friends of the Domes has been working with Milwaukee County Parks on various projects to help attract more people to the area. While the Domes continue to be an educational destination for area schools, recently the building has also served as a venue for weddings, corporate parties and a host of other events like Music Under Glass. This year, construction on a new facade was also completed, creating a welcoming courtyard for guests.

The Milwaukee Domes Art Festival is the latest attraction designed to bring visitors through the door.

“The concept was created in a Friends of the Domes Board meeting …we were looking for ways to support the venue, and one of the ideas offered was an art festival,” says Libbey, who added that it took about 18 months (from conception to the board accepting the proposal) to put on the first annual festival in 2010. While Libbey says that generous local sponsorships were crucial in planning the festival, a lot of in-house support was also key.

“This couldn’t possibly happen without the Milwaukee County Parks System, the Friends of the Domes and hundreds of volunteers,” says Libbey.

With its inception last year, the Milwaukee Domes Art Festival attracted dozens of local and regional artists to the park for a weekend that included live art demonstrations, plein air painting, craft projects for kids and even live music. This year welcomes more of the same with the addition of a few national artists and well-known names from our fair city including current Pfister Artist in Residence Shelby Keefe and painter Curtis Crain, among others.

Kathleen Eaton Plein Air Milwaukee Domes Art Festival

Painter Kathleen Eaton captures a young boy on canvas at last years Domes Art Festival

From Friday to Sunday, more than 75 artists will display their work, which covers a wide variety of media – from painting to sculpture, photography to jewelery and mixed media. Each was selected to participate as part of an exhaustive jury process, with a jury comprised of Graeme Reid, Shelby Keefe and Catherine Davidson, with Bill DeLind acting as an alternate juror. Artists will have original works for sale throughout the weekend, giving attendees a chance to build (or start) their personal collections. Painters will be scattered about the grounds as part of the plein air event, where artists will create work on site, inspired by the Domes and surrounding park.

One unique component of the festival is that it incorporates two separate competitions for participants — a general show competition and one for plein air. Each will be judged by the aforementioned jury, and awards total $10,500 – one of the largest amounts among local and regional art festivals. Best of Show will receive $3,000, with five honorable mention awards at $1,000 each. In plein air, best of show receives $2,000, with one honorable mention prize of $500.

While the festival’s focus is on fine art, there are plenty of activities for the entire family. Discovery World and Kohl’s will offer crafts and other make-and-take projects for kids, plus face painting, storytelling and a puppet performance. For the adults, there will be live music throughout the grounds featuring everything from a traditional Scottish piper to a local string quartet and cover bands. In Tandem Theatre will also perform.

And let’s not forget about the food — after all, it’s not quite a festival without food. The Domes Art Festival puts an upscale twist on the average burger-and-brats type of fare, with gourmet concoctions from Maxie’s Southern Comfort, Blue’s Egg and Burke’s Lakeside restaurant. Think lobster BLT’s, homemade jambalaya and bourbon chocolate chip cookies.

The price of festival admission also grants access to the Domes themselves, which Libbey says have acquired new species in the last year.

“You can see fine art on the grounds and then come inside and see nature’s art,” says Libbey.

The Milwaukee Domes Art Festival takes place August 19-21 at Mitchell Park Conservatory, 524 S. Layton Ave. Tickets are $8 per person. For hours, tickets and more information, click here.

ThirdCoast Digest is a proud sponsor of the 2011 festival — come check us out in the Plein Air tent this Saturday and Sunday.

Categories: Visual Art

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