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The annual Ann Arbor Art Fair returned this weekend to spread art, good eats and laughter downtown after being canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the weekend, large crowds gathered on State St., E. Liberty St. and S. Main St. to shop for one-of-a-kind pieces and to experience the creativity exhibited by the many diverse artists. Ann Arbor Art Fair vendors traditionally travel from all over the country to participate, and many return year after year.

The Art Fair requires nearly a year of planning, with preparations for the next year’s event picking up right after the tents go down. The weekend event is a joint experience organized by three separate fairs: the Street Art Fair (The original), the State Street Art Fair, and the Summer Art Fair. In an email to The Michigan Daily sent prior to this year’s fair, Frances Todoro-Hargreaves, the executive director for the State Street District, explained the vendor selection and planning processes.

“The planning process for the fair is a year-round process that begins in August with the announcement of the reinvited artists and then moves to the jury application process, then the jury reviews the applications and sends out invitations,” Todoro-Hargreaves wrote. “In the meantime, all three fairs work together on things like city permits, solid waste (removal systems) and media.”

Local artists, businesses and Ann Arbor community members alike were distressed when the 2020 Art Fair was called off last May. After originally anticipating that the 2021 Art Fair would be canceled as well, artists, organizers and attendees this year were excited to do whatever they could to ensure the in-person event would be safe and successful.

In her email to The Daily, Todoro-Hargreaves said everyone would have to adapt to the changes and challenges associated with hosting a large-scale public event this year for the fair to be a positive experience, since this year’s event would feature fewer vendors than normal.

“With fewer artists we are expecting a more open feeling to the fair,” Todoro-Hargreaves wrote. “But we are expecting the same excitement and great art as we have every year. Our main goals are to have a successful and safe event for both the artists and the businesses.”

Abstract artist Lisa Burge runs her studio out of Kansas City, Mo., but never misses her annual trip to Michigan in the summer to showcase her work at the Art Fair. Burge said the Ann Arbor Art Fair has come to hold a special place in her heart, not only because it’s a tradition for her to attend, but also because she loves connecting with the fair’s attendees.

“I moved to Kansas City a few years ago, after living in Taos, New Mexico for 45 years,” Burge said. “Now, my studio is based out of Kansas City. I have been coming to the Ann Arbor Art Fair for a long time, probably somewhere between 20 and 25 years … I think the quality (of the art fair) is excellent. It’s always been very well run. The audience is very appreciative and knowledgeable and it’s just been a great show.”

Husband and wife Tom and Chris Clements run a photography business together out of their home in Nashville, Tenn. Chris Clements echoed Burge’s appreciation for the vivacious and diverse crowd, also citing it as the main factor that brings them north to Ann Arbor year after year.

“We’ve come (to the Ann Arbor Art Fair) seven or eight times,” Tom Clements said. “Our favorite thing about coming here is the diversity. It’s a fun show with a good crowd. … (There are) many great artists here, so you get quality art to the people attending and (there’s) a great variety to choose from.”

The Ann Arbor Art Fair is unique in that it features a wide array of art made with different mediums. From custom clothing items to paintings and photographs, several artists and attendees mentioned to The Daily that Ann Arbor does not define ‘art’ in one way and commended the management teams for selecting a variety of exhibit types.

While Tom Clements specializes in photographing landscapes and natural subjects, Illinois-based artist George Ceffalio creates oil paintings inspired by Classical Realism — an artistic movement that emerged at the turn of the 21st century in which observations of the natural world are portrayed with heightened beauty and compositionally balanced. Ceffalio told The Daily experimenting with the artistic style preferred by the “Old Masters” of 18th century Europe initially led him to his passion for painting still lifes.

“I paint on a mahogany wood panel, so I’m going for that Old Master style,” Ceffalio said. “Well, at first (painting still lifes) wasn’t my first choice theme. I (later) came to appreciate not only still life, but how to learn from still life, and it just grew on me. That’s what I like doing.”

During Art Fair weekend, the streets transform into a mosaic of Ann Arbor townies mingling with those who travel to the city just to admire the artwork and get caught up in excitement. Despite the pandemic, many returning attendees enjoyed their experience as much as in previous years. LSA sophomore Jane Hooberman has attended the art fair several times in previous years and participated in the festivities once again this summer. Though Hooberman said she noticed differences between this year’s event and past Ann Arbor Art Fairs, she emphasized the value of the in-person experience.

“As someone who has been to the Ann Arbor Art Fair before, I can say that I loved my experience at this year’s art fair, even if it was not the same as the previous years,” Hooberman said. “I enjoyed the liveliness of people gathering to appreciate the various artwork of many kinds, and I love being able to meet the artists to hear their stories regarding their creative processes. The streets were happy and busy, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.”

Daily Staff Reporters Kaitlyn Luckoff and Nirali Patel can be reached at kluckoff@umich.edu and nirpat@umich.edu