The Magic of Capitola Plein Air, a new event that launched November 7 and 8, awarded more than $2,000 and prizes and came off beautifully. How did the first-time organizers do it?
Capitola, which sits in Santa Cruz County on Monterey Bay in California, is certainly a good spot for a plein air competition and sale. It boasts a beautiful beach that acts as a magnet for tourists, picturesque cliffs, Victorian homes, and a quaint village right on the water. The Santa Cruz area previously had a plein air event, but it died out several years ago. Based on the reception the inaugural The Magic of Capitola Plein Air received, it was missed. “There was a need for it — it wasn’t just us wanting to have the event,” says Jenny Shelton, the Art and Cultural Commissioner for the City of Capitola, and the main organizer of the event. “Overwhelmingly, everyone — from the artists to the sponsors to the public — were pleased.”

Al Shamble, Second Place

You may have noticed that Shelton is employed by the City of Capitola. That is crucial. “We are the city, we are not an association trying to put this event on,” says Shelton. “We have the resources of the city, things that we can access for free. It makes a big difference.” In particular, this proved to be an advantage in regard to one of Shelton’s biggest pieces of advice for new event organizers: Have a Plan B.

Sandra Cherk works on the Capitola Wharf. Photo by Al Shamble

“Our beach is ideal for a plein air event, and we really wanted to have the whole thing outside,” she says. “We wanted the artists to paint there and sell the work outside and tap into the crowd on the beach. But while we had great weather for the artists painting, it rained on Sunday. If we hadn’t anticipated that, it would have been a big disaster. We had a Plan B to move to a nearby community center, and we included that Plan B in all the marketing, so people knew what to expect. It was a great venue for us — in fact, we plan on having the sale and awards presentation at the same place next year.”

Judy Miller working on Cliff Road. Photo by Jenny Shelton

An independent organizer might not have access to a 3,000-square-foot venue with kitchen, restrooms, and sliding walls — for free — should there be rain. An independent organizer might also wish to make a profit or raise funds. The City of Capitola simply wanted an arts event that engaged the public and came in under budget. Mission accomplished.

Hershel Abelman, First Place in the Amateur division

Shelton says Capitola is blessed with many good local artists, which helped considerably. The event was also lucky to have volunteers and organizers dedicated to making it happen. “The most important thing is to have people on the team who are passionate,” she says. “People willing to take on responsibility. An event like this can suddenly seem much more complicated — with a lot more moving parts — than you anticipated. We will do some things differently next year. We will try to find host families for the out-of-town artists. And the biggest complaint we heard was in regard to parking. It’s a real problem down by the coast, where everyone wants to paint, and we have some very serious parking officials. Maybe we will institute a shuttle to help artists get around and transport their materials. And honestly, we may have provided hospitality above and beyond what the artists expected. Maybe it’s because we are newbies, but we provided bottled water, snacks, and fruit to the artists each morning before they began painting. They were pleased.”

Honorable Mention winners, from left: Lupe Santos, Bill Kennann, Paul Fortis, Joe Ortiz, Karin Leonard, Mike Bailey, and João de Brito.

In the end, The Magic of Capitola Plein Air attracted 37 professional artists and five amateurs. Thirteen artists came from out of town. The top prize, First Place, went to Charles Prentiss. He took home $1,500, and his piece will now hang in City Hall. (It is a purchase prize.) Second Place is also a purchase prize, worth $750. It went to Al Shamble. Mike Bailey, Peggy Wynne Borgman, João de Brito, Paul Fortis, Bill Kennann, Karin Leonard, Joe Ortiz, and Lupe Santos won Honorable Mention.

Capitola Plein Air’s crucial Plan B, which was ultimately implemented: Move the reception to a local community center

Finally, Shelton says the sponsors they lined up for the event were pleased. “We started small with sponsors, only asking for a little, just to get people involved,” she reports. “Some are already saying that they want to be bigger sponsors next year.”


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