Summer in Ann Arbor is a different beast from its school year counterpart. The pace slows, with many University students returning home or going elsewhere, the sidewalks thin and the town’s median age seems to rise. Yet, the 56-year old Ann Arbor Art Fair seems to mark the town in a way that makes July feel as rowdy as autumn’s Football Saturdays, punctuating this time of year with a signature touch of Ann Arbor culture and camaraderie.

Art Fair encapsulates what is essentially four different fairs — The Ann Arbor Street Fair, Ann Arbor State Street Fair, Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair and the Ann Arbor South University Fair — for a long weekend of showcasing over 1,000 artists as well as live entertainment, demonstrations, local museum and gallery openings and interactive cultural activities.

Maureen Riley has been the Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Street Fair since 2010 and previously directed the Detroit Festival of the Arts. In a phone interview with the the Daily, she identified this year’s biggest change as a move from the historic Wednesday through Saturday timeslot to a Thursday to Sunday one, anticipating the attendance of over 500,000 people over the four days.

“That’s a huge change, and it’s been a couple of years in the making. There were a lot of people involved, a lot of stakeholders involved in the decision,” she said.

Artists supported the shift and local businesses have jumped at the opportunity to benefit from Saturday night Art Fair patrons.

Riley highlighted aspects of the fair that create a singular artistic experience that’s constantly evolving and highly interactive.

“Every year the art is new. Whether it’s new artists or old favorites returning with new bodies of work, you’re never going to see the same thing from year to year and that’s what makes Art fairs exciting. If you have a favorite artist that you follow over the years, you get to watch the evolution of their style and technique and it becomes a friendship,” said Riley. 

Riley spoke about an art piece at the fair that’s to take place in real time. “We do a large scale street painting, which this year is a chalk drawing in the style of the Ancient Italian Modenari, and this year our artist is named Tess Tobolic, and this year she is recreating Salvador Dali’s melting watch.”

“She’ll start creating the piece on Thursday and it will be done on Sunday and you can watch the progress as she creates it in chalk on the sidewalk on East Washington and Ingalls Mall,” Riley continued.

There will be a demonstration area on North University, where attendants can watch artists and craftsman in action, taking a peek into an often-mysterious artistic process.

Although the Art Fair is recognized as a cornerstone of local Ann Arbor culture, Riley noted that the fair draws people in from well beyond city limits.

“It’s really a broad, broad range of styles and people and our visitorship really comes from all over the country, while a lot of it is from Michigan, 20% of our visitors come from out of state,” she said.

Above all else, Riley believes in the accessibility of the Art fair. “You take a thousand artists and put them in the streets of Ann Arbor. You find artwork to suit everyone’s taste and price point and then you add the unique ambiance of Ann Arbor into the mix and it’s just a fun time,” Riley said.

Ann Arbor will open its streets for the 57th time, letting local creative juices flow and undertaking festivities to honor the innovation and whimsical talent that brews below the surface of a quieter and more relaxed Ann Arbor populace.

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