Artist Terry Miura demonstrating as he paints a Reid Avenue streetscape in downtown Port St. Joe. [ Forgotten Coast en Plein Air ]
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Annual plein air festival opens this week

The 18th annual Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event March 17 to 26 will bring artists of international acclaim to capture the natural beauty, character and local culture of the region through the plein air tradition. 

While for artists, the Forgotten Coast is heaven, the event is far from a one-sided art experience. The public is invited to watch the artists paint and give demonstrations throughout the week; to attend lectures and witness the moving “Plein Air Church;” to watch the fast-paced magic of the QuickDraw competition, where artists complete a painting in record time; and to attend receptions and exhibits of paintings of the Forgotten Coast. With few exceptions, these events are free and open to the public.

“En plein air,” a French term meaning “in the outdoors,” means the artists take their easels, paints and canvas outdoors, braving conditions of changing light, challenging weather and even pesky insects to capture the spirit and essence of the subject or scene in front of them. 

The artwork produced by the invited artists during the event will be exhibited throughout the 10-day event at the “Wet Room” in Apalachicola’s Fort Coombs Armory, where fresh-from-the-easel work is brought in daily, with the exhibit growing throughout the event. 

Other free exhibits, open to the public, will be at The Joe Center for the Arts in Port St. Joe; the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and Art; the Mexico Beach Welcome Center; and at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Port St. Joe.

The event opens at noon Friday, March 17 with a public reception welcoming the artists at the Gulf County Visitors’ Center. There will also be receptions following artist demonstrations in Carrabelle, Eastpoint, Cape San Blas, Mexico Beach and St. George Island. 

There will also be two presentations by artists who came to the Forgotten Coast earlier in the year to tackle issues of community concern through their artwork. These artists will reflect on their “artist residency” experiences at receptions in their honor where their work is exhibited. Greg Barnes’ residency deals with dunes restoration, and will be exhibited at The Joe Center for the Arts, with a reception on Sunday, March 19 at 6 p.m. Artists Manon Sander and Michelle Held’s residency “Expanding the Modern Plein Air Movement” introduced selected art students from FAMU and FSU to plein air painting and the business of being an artist. Their work, as well as work by the students, will be exhibited at the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and Art, with a reception on Monday, March 20 at 6 p.m.

Plein Air Church, a moving part of the event, is an outdoor worship service, featuring gospel music and performance by Forgotten Coast community members. Artists will be capturing the Sunday morning service, and the public is invited to witness and worship, or even to bring an easel to record the celebration. This joyful event will be held on Sunday, March 19 from 9 until 11 a.m at Apalachicola’s Riverfront Park.

Student Art Day,, taking place this year on Wednesday, March 22 at 11 a.m. at Salinas Park in Gulf County, is an annual tradition, where each invited artist is paired with a student from the Port St. Joe and Franklin County high schools to mentor and guide in creating a plein air work of art. A highlight of the 10-day event, the public is invited to come and watch creativity blossom. All student artwork is then exhibited at the Wet Room in Apalachicola.

How about taking a lunch break and learning about art? A series of five “Lunch and Learn” sessions feature invited artists as instructors, presenting tips, techniques and insights. A $15 fee covers the cost of lunch, beverage and table seating, and must be reserved in advance, but people are welcome to attend the sessions at no cost without the lunch. Bag lunches may be brought in.

For aspiring artists, the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air offers what it calls “Painting Stations” taught by Florida’s Finest Ambassadors, four accomplished Florida plein air painters and teachers. For a $40 fee participants can spend two hours with a professional artist for a one-on-one painting experience. Painting stations enable beginner and novice painters to foster an appreciation for plein air painting. All materials are provided and, with the guidance of the Florida’s Finest Ambassadors, participants go home with their own plein air painting. Additionally, two full-day workshops are offered at the beginning of the event.

“The Forgotten Coast is a uniquely special place to all of us, with its natural beauty, classic Old South architecture, and wonderful local people, all lending inspiration for outstanding plein air art,” said Susan Bassett, president of the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition board. “We are committed to sharing the plein air art experience with students, locals, and visitors. Proceeds from our event go back into our communities, extending the reach of our 10-day event year round.” 

The Forgotten Coast en Plein Air is hosted by the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition (FCCC), a 501(c)3 organization which organizes cultural activities from Alligator Point to Mexico Beach. The event was conceived as a way to document the regional history and culture, and to highlight the preservation and awareness of Florida’s natural resources. Since relevancy to the communities it serves is also important to the FCCC, artist residencies were introduced two years ago to tackle wide-ranging issues of community concern and provide opportunities for dialogue.

A percentage of each Forgotten Coast en Plein Air painting sale is used by the FCCC to benefit the arts in Forgotten Coast communities. Event proceeds have benefitted educational, cultural and health care facilities, including youth programs, initiatives addressing volunteerism and the inception of The Joe Center for the Arts in Port St. Joe. Both the event and its host are volunteer run by community members with an interest in promoting the arts, and in offering these activities for free or low cost to residents and visitors. New volunteers are always welcome. 

Full information and details about all of its events and activities may be obtained by calling 800-378-8419 or by visiting