Browsing some art glass at the Traverse Bay Outdoor Art Fair
Browsing some art glass at the Traverse Bay Outdoor Art Fair
By MIKE NORTON Ah, this is more like summer weather! Goodbye to the haze and the humidity - hello to warm, dry breezes and clear sharp air (scented with just a hint of pine needles and suntan oil.) Across the street from my office, they're putting up tents and booths for this year's Traverse City Film Festival, and everybody seems to be in a good mood again.  In addition to the Film Festival, which runs from Tuesday through Sunday, there are all kinds of other summer things happening in Traverse City this week. If you've ever wanted to watch the rough-and-tumble of lacrosse, this is your chance to get a free peek; the Cherry Bomb Lacrosse Tournament will bring up to 80 of the best lacrosse teams in the Midwest to the TBAY soccer fields this weekend.  Another excellent event will be coming up on Saturday, when Art Center Traverse City holds its 51st Traverse Bay Outdoor Art Fair in a grove of ancient pines on the Northwestern Michigan College campus. The Saturday air fair is one of the best in the Midwest, attracting 120 artists and 10,000 visitors from the United States and Canada.  Just up the coast in Suttons Bay, organizers are making preparations for their own outdoor exhibition. The Suttons Bay Community Art Festival is a mere baby when compared to Traverse City's art fair - but it lasts two days (Aug. 6-7) and includes 90 juried artists, which is about as many booths as the village's grassy bayfront park can hold.
Down on the Beach at the Suttons Bay Community Art Fair
Down on the Beach at the Suttons Bay Community Art Fair
 Although the Traverse City area is still best known as a destination for golf, boating and other outdoor recreation, it's also gained a reputation as a place of unusual artistic activity. It was ranked with places like Nantucket and Taos in John Villani's 2005 book "100 Best Art Towns in America," and USA Today called it one of 10 great places that combine "big-city art and small-town feel."  Artists and artisans have been settling in the communities around Grand Traverse Bay for decades, drawn by the same natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle that makes the Traverse City area a magnet for summer tourists. This influx of talent has spawned a network of tightly-knit art colonies in places like Glen Arbor, Elk Rapids and Suttons Bay, complete with galleries, workshops and studios where art lovers can see and buy local artworks -- and even meet with the artists who made them. But an even easier way to sample some of that creative ferment is to visit one or two of the colorful art fairs and festivals that brighten the summer season. Many visitors now plan their vacations around such favorite events as the annual Fiber Festival held each October in the village of Leland, which features original artwork in textiles, weavings, knits, yarns and even paper, or the Aug. 20 Downtown Art Fair, where Traverse City's streets are shut down for a juried fair featuring over 90 Midwestern and national artists.  That same evening, local art mavens have created a hybrid event that combines Traverse City's artsy vibe with its growing fame as an up-and-coming "foodie" town: it's the annual Traverse City Wine & Art Festival, now in its third year. Held on the spacious lawn of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons (the city's former mental asylum) the festival features 30 tents filled with high quality art "for purchase and appreciation" - together with food, desserts, wines from the nearby Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula, and live musical performances. Traverse City also boasts one particularly noteworthy museum devoted entirely to the fine arts. The Dennos Museum Center opened its doors in 1991, and has become the region's leading art museum, sponsoring major exhibitions of Egyptian, Chinese and Japanese art as well as shows of national and international interest.  I think the Dennos is one of Traverse City's great treasures. Tucked away in that same grove of tall pines at Northwestern Michigan College, it's regularly hailed one of the finest small art museums in the nation, with a permanent collection that includes one of the world's most extensive troves of sculpture, prints and drawings by Inuit artists of the Canadian Arctic.  "Our mandate from the beginning was to bring things to this community that other organizations and facilities couldn't bring here on their own," says museum director Eugene Jenneman.