Cultural Center gears up for 5th Annual Wet Paint Padanaram, registration still available

Aug 29, 2023

At last year’s “plein air” event, an artist painted the Padanaram bridge, complete with the bridge tender in his booth. At the public gallery opening later in the day, the painting was purchased by the bridge tender’s wife, said Cultural Center President Pauline Santos. 

“Having something that’s basically one of a kind is exciting to people,” said Gallery Director Jill Law. 

Dartmouth Cultural Center is preparing for its 5th annual “Wet Paint Padanaram” plein air event Saturday, Sept. 23. Artists will need to finalize their registration, however, by Sept. 11. The event sends artists out into the community to paint their surroundings, with a focus on the natural environment. The french term “plein air” refers to painting outdoors. 

The event began as an effort to highlight the local environment and climate change’s effect on it, but Santos said the program lost that emphasis through the pandemic. To refocus on the event’s original intent, the cultural center hosted an environmental lecture series over the summer leading up to September’s painting day. 

Last year, the event had about 40 artists, but Santos said 40 artists have already registered this year, with over a week of left to go. Enrollment is limited to 75 artists. 

Artists come to the cultural center at 9 a.m. to get their canvas or paper stamped, proving that the work began that day. They then receive a map with designated public access points where they can set up for the day. At their chosen location, they set paint until finished, or until 3 p.m. The artists then come back to the cultural center at 3:30 p.m. with their artwork, and the gallery opens to the public at 4 p.m. An independent juror will select three winners, who will receive $300, $200 and $150, respectively. This year’s juror is artist and professor David Barnes. 

Law started the event in 2019, and said it’s become bigger and bigger every year. She paints as well every year, but usually gets outside to her spot a bit later in the day because of her organizing responsibilities. 

“You’re in the atmosphere,” Law said. “You’re actually there and the light is changing constantly. You start at 9:30 in the morning, by 11:00, the light has changed completely.”

The public has an opportunity to purchase the artwork directly from the artist at the gallery. At last year’s plein air event, about a dozen artworks sold out of 40 or so artists. 

Because artists are painting outside in public, the event also gives some visibility to local artists and the Dartmouth Cultural Center. Community members will frequently stop by to talk to artists and ask what they’re painting, Law said. 

“You get a lot of people who are walking through the village at that time of day,” Law said. “It’s so nice to engage with the public as they come by … it’s a nice community feeling.”

That community feeling is important for a spread-out town like Dartmouth, Law said. 

“When we have something like this, and people come around and see 15 or 20 people painting outside on Smith Neck Road, it’s a very cultural feeling,” Law said. “It’s like yeah. we do have this kind of culture in town, it’s not just shops and economics.”

Artists can head to to sign up.