A busy weekend for art lovers

An example of the works created for this year's annual spring Artist Card Release, this one by Angel Ambrose. The walk returns to downtown Bloomington 5 to 8 p.m. Friday.

BLOOMINGTON — March roars in like a lion, at least on the local art front, with a series of special events converging on the weekend at hand, including a major milestone for its longest-running annual affair.

The activities start on Thursday, with both Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State universities celebrating new openings.

In IWU's Merwin and Wakeley Galleries, master printer Jonathan Higgins will present a gallery walk at 5 p.m. of the new Wakelely exhibit, "Recent Prints and Projects from Manneken Press," a showcase of current prints and projects from Bloomington's independent fine arts press. 

Preceding the walk, at 4 p.m. in Room 218 of IWU's Ames School of Art Building, Peoria-based painter, sculptor and artist Bill Conger will offer a talk on his new Merwin Gallery exhibit, "to open windows."

Also offering a free talk Thursday will be Chicago artist Deb Sokolow, discussing her new exhibit in ISU's University Galleries, "Schematics, Surveillance, Murder" (which will be the subject of next week's GO! section cover story).

The free event is at noon in the Galleries.

At the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington, a busy weekend kicks off Friday with the Armstrong Gallery opening of "Alighted," featuring Stephanie Roberts' figurative oil paintings.

On Sunday, the MCAC observes a major milestone with the 90th anniversary edition of Bloomington-Normal's longest-running annual art event, the McLean County Amateur Art Competition-Exhibition.  

This year, the contest drew 282 entries, with 124 works by McLean County-based amateur artists selected by juror Stephanie Roberts, whose own solo exhibit, as noted, opens Friday.

The competition opens with a reception from 1 to 3 p.m., and features the awards ceremony at 2 p.m., during which 26 cash prizes will be awarded in various categories.

Also handed out will be the event's top honor, the $300 Merwin Medal Award, for outstanding work of art. Also presented will be the $150 Ashley Ritter Most Promising Art Award.

The exhibition will remain in view in the Brandt Gallery through April 22.

In downtown Bloomington, the March edition of First Friday from 5 to 8 brings an array of special art-related events.

The global art phenomenon known as Artist Cards Editions and Originals returns for its spring edition to participating galleries and studios.

The signed cards are created by more than 40 area artists, and are restricted to the wallet-sized dimensions of 2½ inches by 3½ inches.

They employ any type of surface, including paper, metal, plastic and thin wood.

The cards are priced between $5 and $15, and are limited in number (though more complex cards, it should be noted, can sell for more).

They will be available at participating studios and galleries and select downtown businesses. For more information, call Brian K Simpson at 309-454-7393.

At the Eaton Gallery (a participant in the artist card event), there also will be several additional activities in the offing.

Sara Quah, a Normal-based singer-songwriter, will perform from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. as part of a collaboration with artist narrative and landscape artist Herb Eaton.

Her performance is in three sets, at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 309-828-1575. The gallery is located at 411 N. Center St.

Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraft

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