A year after it was forced to shift to an online-only series of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olmsted Plein Air Invitational is returning with a combination of in-person and virtual festivities.

Inaugurally held in Atlanta's historic Olmsted Linear Park (Frederick L. Olmsted Sr's last urban park development), the invitational is a showcase and competition of the nation’s best plein air, or outdoors, painters set for April 17 through 25.

“Our annual event is special because of the roster of world-class painters we’ve been able to assemble,” said Roger Quillen, an invitational board member and art collector who has volunteered with the event since its founding. “On the one hand, it is that roster of outstanding artists.

“(But) it is also the settings that we provide for those artists in and around Atlanta and the whole state of Georgia (the artists can paint from anywhere in the state in the first half of the week). So something that really defines our event is the subject matter of their paintings. What makes their art attractive to many buyers in Georgia is the subjects are of interest to the people who live here.”

With last year’s event happening about a month after the pandemic hit the United States, the invitational’s organizers quickly had to pivot to an online-only affair.

“It was disappointing to some extent because one of the great features of the whole plein air art movement and invitationals like ours is your personal access to the artists,” Quillen said. “I like to use this analogy: this is like going to a PGA (Tour) golf event and not simply being allowed inside the ropes but being allowed to walk with the most famous golfers in the world and ask them why they’ve chosen that club for their next shot.

“At a plein air event like Olmsted, patrons have direct access to their artists while they’re producing their art, and the artists are gracious in answering questions even while in the act of painting. These are some of the greatest artists in the world.”

He added the 2020 event was a success, even in a virtual format, thanks to some quick thinking.

“Amazingly, we were able to hold onto all of our artists and our collectors and have a wonderful event thanks to an industry-best virtual platform,” Quillen said. “It included an online ‘virtual’ gallery catalogue that gave individual (web)pages to each individual artist and highlighted all of their art. There were opportunities to talk to potential collectors. Some of their pages had videos of them discussing their art or showing them painting.

“It was so well done that we succeeded in holding together the three critical groups to our success: the painters, the collectors and the donors. That virtual approach held it all together and allowed it to be a great success.”

Quillen added he’s excited the invitational is returning to some in-person events, which includes “personal contact with the artists.”

The Olmsted will kick off with a collectors’ preview exhibition March 18 through 20 at Hindman Auctions in Buckhead, where patrons can view the 34 paintings included in this year’s invitational. The exhibition can be viewed in person or online and will include a live painting demonstration by an artist each day.

“I think despite the pandemic, people still want community,” said Kristin Vaughn, senior director of business development for Hindman’s Atlanta regional office and salesroom. “People want to be together. We want to gather together safely. When you sit in a museum or a gallery space, I really think the space allows people naturally to social distance but come together.”

The preview exhibition and all other Olmsted in-person events this year will include health and safety precautions such as requiring masks and social distancing.

Hindman is offering its space for free, and all proceeds from art sales during the preview exhibition and other events will go to Olmsted Arts Inc., the nonprofit hosting the invitational. According to its website, the organization “is dedicated to nurturing the visual and cultural art education and experience through the art of plein air painting.”

Half of the 34 artists included in this year’s Olmsted will participate in person, and the rest will do so virtually.

Other in-person events include the April 22 Garden Gallery Stroll in Druid Hills; the April 24 and 25 PaintQuick (OTP) and (ITP) competitions, awards shows and sales events at Chateau Elan in Braselton and Atlanta’s Ansley Park, respectively; and the April 27 and 28 Art & Inspiration two-day oil painting workshop with artist Jill Steenhuis at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead.

There also will be daily opportunities for attendees to be invited to various locations, such as the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead, to watch the artists create their paintings. The Olmsted will conclude April 25 with a virtual Collectors and Artists Awards Soiree, where the top paintings will be honored.

The invitational will also include a virtual gallery open April 17 through July 17 and featuring more than 400 paintings.

For more information on the invitational, to purchase event tickets or to take part online, visit www.olmstedpleinair.com.

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