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NORMAL — When it comes to taking their work to the streets, artists say the pluses of meeting the public far outweigh any minuses that might emanate from the fickle heavens above.

At this weekend's 33rd edition of the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, around 130 exhibitors from both near and far will congregate in Uptown Normal for one of the Twin Cities' flagship summer happenings (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday).

As always, hope springs eternal that temperatures won't be infernal.

And speaking of springs ... the added hope is that the only significant moisture on hand will that rising upward from the Roundabout fountain.

"Being an exhibitor at an outdoor event is not an easy task," admits Fernando Cornejo, a past Best of Show winner and a participant in the fest for nearly 20 of its 33 years.

Cornejo's acclaimed work includes his landscape paintings on acetate and Plexiglass, and his "Numeros y Colores" series of numbers and colors "in a very geometric style."

"Sometimes the weather can be cold, rainy, windy or too hot," he says. "And you always have to be on your feet and ready to try and get people interested in your work."

The result: "It's a lot of long hours for an artist, but the payback comes when you make that sale, and have found a wonderful home for that piece that you created."

At the other end of the spectrum is a newcomer to the summer art fest circuit, Bekki Canine, whose paintings are described as "surrealist fun" by Douglas Johnson, director of the McLean County Art Center, which presents the fest with the Town of Normal.

The alum of Illinois Wesleyan University's School of Arts says "the idea of returning to the Bloomington-Normal area was appealing ... the Sugar Creek Arts Festival has a list of talented participants, and I'm proud to be able to show my work alongside theirs."

Because most of Canine's work has what she describes as a "humorous or ironic" element, "I hope to hear people chuckling as they look at my paintings. It will be even better if they call someone else over to take a look and talk about what they see."

But not just chuckling: She also hopes to monitor people's ideas "about the meaning or story they find in the paintings," which are created in oils but have other materials worked in, from playing cards to maps to fabric.

Traveling from rural Kentucky this weekend is University of Illinois graduate Amy Millspaugh, who says her pottery is born with a goal in mind.

"I believe in a way that every piece I create is for a specific person," she says. "With this in mind, I really don't plan out my work. I don't throw on a wheel; my work is very hands-on."

On the streets of Uptown Normal this weekend, that creative impulse will find closure "when a patron walks into my booth feeling that I must have made this piece for them."

Monticello-based glass artist Jim Downey has been a Sugar Creek fixture since 2003, "and it's always one of my most successful shows," he says of the 15 juried art fests he attends each summer.

Downey's functional blown and fused glass pieces, from bowls to paperweights and garden ornaments, have found a receptive public here, summer in and summer out.

"It is consistently one of the premier art festivals in Central Illinois, thanks in no small part to the hard work and planning of the great folks at the McLean County Arts Center."

What really impresses Downey is the fact that "people come to buy art ... the Bloomington-Normal community really supports this festival."

"I'm new to summer art fairs," admits Canine. "But so far the experience has been very positive. I like the fun, casual atmosphere, and I get to hear how people respond to my art and the conversations that develop around it."

Millspaugh is drawn to Sugar Creek by several factors: "Doug Johnson and his staff do a remarkable job in hosting the show, and Bloomington-Normal is a wonderful place to be for an art show in the summer: friendly, generous and kind all the way around."

At the end of what can be a very long day, the big attraction for Cornejo "is that it's my hometown ... and I love being able to showcase my work to art enthusiasts in the community. I have families who come back to visit every year and see what new pieces I have created."

And that's the kind of payment that can't be assigned a dollar value: "Being able to visit with old friends, and meet new ones." 

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Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraft


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