Where art meets the mountains: seven insider tips to make the most of Cashiers Plein Air Festival

Experience art live and on location with an elevated summer escape to the mountain hamlet of Cashiers, N.C. where visiting artists will crawl the town and countryside with easels and pallets in tow for five days this July.

The Cashiers Plein Air Festival is a celebration of art that comes alive before your eyes — on sidewalks and patios, in gardens and pastures, overlooking mountainsides and scenic vistas. French for “open air,” plein air painting is a rare form of spectator art that’s yours to experience during this year’s festival from July 17-21.

Twenty invited artists will descend on the unrivaled scenic beauty of the Cashiers plateau  straddling the Blue Ridge escarpment, an enchanting backdrop that’s a prized setting for the nationally-acclaimed plein air painters. A whirlwind of events  over the festival’s five-day run includes artist demos, a timed art competition, the Palette to Palate Affair, a youth art workshop and an ever-changing gallery of works created during the festival.

Far from the static walls of a museum, the Cashiers Plein Air Festival is set in the dynamic laboratory of the mountains themselves. Plein Air purists believe it’s the only way to capture the spirit of this place. They bask in it, embed themselves in it, and by some miracle, conjure the aura of the scene onto their canvas.

The festival only rolls around every other year, so book your trip now to secure a coveted spot. Discover the enchantment that lures thousands of visitors to Cashiers to witness the mesmerizing and captivating display. Find a B&B, vacation house, resort or hotel to serve as your home base with our lodging guide at Discover Jackson.

Then dive in to our seven insider’s strategies to map out your art-filled adventure to Cashiers.

1. Go behind-the-scenes

The epicenter of the Cashiers Plein Air Festival is The Village Green, a bucolic 13-acre park with lush gardens, manicured paths and trails, outdoor sculptures and a whimsical children’s playground. It’s here that you’ll find the festival grand tent — home to artist demos and a timed paint-off — and the festival gallery, also known as the “Wet Room,” since the fresh works aren’t always dry yet.

The beautiful grounds are a hotspot for the visiting artists at work, and it’s also where they congregate when they’re not behind the easel.

Catch an artist demo in the festival grand tent to learn more about the process and techniques of the painters. There’s in all — at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday — each featuring different artists. A single demo is $20, or see them all with the Palette Pass.

Got a budding artist? Kids 12 and older can participate in a workshop where they’re paired with a visiting artist. The Youth Art Paint is at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 21, for $30. Spots are limited and must be reserved in advance by calling 828-743-3434.

2. Don’t miss the Quick Paint

The Plein Air Festival isn’t all fun and games. The visiting artists compete for the prestigious Ring Art Awards over the course of the festival.

But for some real action, take in the Quick Paint, a timed paint-off where artists race the clock to complete a work from start to finish in three hours. The contest is open to any painter, not just the visiting plein air artists. It’s held from noon to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 18, at The Village Green. Tickets are $25 and available online.

3. Make time to watch the paint dry

The beauty of plein air is watching art come to life before your eyes, so don’t be in a hurry. Make time to linger and dawdle as an artist works.

Artists are lurking everywhere during the Cashiers Plein Air Festival, but be on the lookout for the festival logo displayed at designated venues, including shops, restaurants and landmarks. Also, check the festival gallery each morning for a list of the painters’ plein air locations for the day.

For the final day of the festival on Saturday, artists will fan out across The Village Green, so settle in and make a day of it.

4. Get the Palette Pass

Go all in with the Palette Pass for entry to exclusive artist events, all five artist demos and a steep discount on tickets for the Palette to Palate Affair.

An exclusive plein air showcase for pass holders will be held at the Blue Star Ranch, a pastoral valley framed by rolling mountains, on Tuesday, July 17. Pass holders also get an exclusive sneak-peak at artists’ works during the Collector’s Preview, a wine and cheese reception in the festival gallery, on Wednesday, July 18.

The pass also gets you into five artist demos, which otherwise costs $20 each. The Palette Pass is $75 per person and can be purchased online in advance.

5. Jazz it up

Have cocktail dress, will travel. Elevate your plein air experience with the Palette to Palate Affair, an evening soiree where the festival’s winning artists will be announced. There will be live jazz music by The Hot Club, cocktails, sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and delectable desserts with an artful flair.
The Palette to Palate will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 20, at The Village Green Commons. Tickets go for $125, or only $75 for Palette Pass holders, and can be purchased online.

6. Know the artists

There are 20 nationally-acclaimed artists featured during the Cashiers Plein Air Festival and knowing a little about them will make the festival even more engaging. Study up ahead of time on the dedicated artists page on the festival web site. What’s their background? What’s their passion? Do they have a flair for majestic skies, a gift for water, a knack for flowers? When you come across an artist you read about, can you see their signature style?

7. Take the memories with you

If you fall in love with a painting, make it yours. The one-of-kind works created by the plein air artists during the festival are displayed in a festival gallery at The Village Green Commons and are available to purchase. The gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. You’ll be supporting a good cause, too. The Cashiers Plein Air Festival raises funds to enhance The Village Green. Paintings can range from $350 to $3,000. This year, there’s an award category for “petite plein air,” encouraging artists to paint 8″x8″ canvases, which would mean more works for sale at entry level prices.

Accommodations that range from downhome B&Bs to luxury resorts are still available for the Cashiers Plein Air Festival. With an impressive dining and brewery scene, scenic outdoor hikes and waterfalls, travelers will not be disappointed when visiting Jackson County. There’s plenty to do and see. All you have to do is jump right in. Plan your trip today.


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