VACI Partners sponsor first-ever ‘en plein air’ event to benefit School of Art students

This Sunday, look for the red balloons — and for the artists beneath.

For this year’s major fundraiser, VACI Partners, which provides scholarships to students at the School of Art, is organizing 10 artists to paint for an afternoon en plein air, or in open air. From noon to 5 p.m., they will paint at various locations around Chautauqua Institution, and the work they produce will be auctioned off at the Stroll Through the Arts VACI Partners gala next weekend.

“Look for the artists,” said Betsy Vance, president of VACI Partners. “They will be more than welcoming people to look over their shoulder and see what they are doing.”

Vance is in the first year of her two-year term, and this en plein air event is a first for VACI Partners, but the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Everybody I asked said yes, they would love to do it,” Vance said. “All of them are donating their time and their art.”

The tradition of painting en plein air is an old one, going back to the Impressionists and Post Impressionists (including Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh), according to participating artist Bob Ivers.

“I have, myself, painted outdoors in many areas,” Ivers said. “It’s a completely different experience. I can remember painting in Arizona, in the desert. And I look at the paintings I’ve done, and I can still feel the warmth on my back. That’s the beauty of painting outdoors  — you become part of the environment.”

Even the possibility of inclement weather will not deter these artists.

“The thing about en plein air is that you can do it on a porch,” said artist Katherine Galbraith.

Or, like Ivers, artists can let it enhance their painting.

“I remember looking down [while painting] a small village in Switzerland with red roofs, and it started to rain,” Ivers said. “The rain enhanced the painting, because you could see the impressions the raindrops made on the painting.”

Besides being a good experience for those doing the painting, the en plein air event also offers a way for Chautauquans to watch the painting process first-hand.

“People in Chautauqua are so interested in Chautauqua’s arts and are not just interested in the kind of art, but they’re interested in the development,” said Jerry Chesley, another artist.

Most of the participating artists are also longtime supporters of VACI. Ivers used to be president of Chautauqua’s visual arts program, when it was — as he describes it — an art club. Galbraith serves on the Partners’ board of directors, and Chesley used to be the assistant director of the gallery.

Over the years, they have helped VACI Partners raise scholarships for students at the School of Art. Last year, the Partners raised $30,000 in scholarships and gave out money for 36 out of 38 students.

“Being able to offer some scholarship money means you can attract a much more diverse population — you can reach out to a much broader audience,” Vance said. “It’s important for the health of the program just to have this wonderful diversity.”

For those interested in bidding on the works to be painted, they will all be sold during a live auction at the Stroll Through the Arts VACI Partners gala. The gala will take place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. next Saturday in the Fowler-Kellogg and Strohl art centers.

“The event has always been fun, and people in Chautauqua will enjoy it,” Chesley said. “It supports the arts, and they always have wonderful food. It’s something that will be entertaining because of the plein air auction, and they have other wonderful gifts that are being donated.”