The 58th Ann Arbor Art Fair cultivates creativity, culture

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 - 10:35pm

The annual Ann Arbor Art Fair will take place this Thursday through Sunday across several city streets and sidewalks, looking to draw in students, residents and artists from around the world. The event — now in its 58th year — is a collaboration among four smaller fairs: The Guild’s Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, State Street Art Fair, Ann Arbor South University Art Fair and Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original.

The event covers 29 city blocks in downtown Ann Arbor and serves as the largest outdoor juried Art Fair in the nation. Pertinent to this year’s fair are the State Street Art Fair’s semicentennial, as well as the pausing of construction on South University Avenue.

Karen Delhey, spokeswoman for the fairs and the executive director of the Guild of Artists & Artisans, which oversees one fair, said the fair is unique each year by nature.

“What we always say is that the Ann Arbor Art Fair is never the same twice, it’s different from year to year,” she said. “Yes, you’re going to always come out and see quality art, but the artists are different year after year, as is the artwork. You’ll have some new artists, you’ll have some returning artists that have new artwork. What we try and emphasize with this event, which is focused on the art, is that the art is what’s new, year after year.”

Last year’s fair was the first time the fair ran Thursday to Sunday instead of Wednesday to Saturday; the change will persist this year.

“Back in the ’60s when the fair started, times were very different, things weren’t open on Sunday, there were a lot more women that stayed home during the week, so it was easier for them to get to the event,” Delhey said. “As times have changed, we felt it was important to have that accessibility on a Sunday, so we moved it over so that more people could get here on the weekend.”

Maureen Riley, the executive director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original, said there was bad weather on the Sunday last year and so event contributors did not see the results it had hoped for; still, according to Riley, it was the right decision.

“Everyone has told us they are thrilled we made the move,” she said.

In terms of coordinating the event, each group curates their show separately but work jointly on marketing, sponsorships and city services.

“We all take applications from artists and then go through a juried process, so they’re scored and then we pick who comes into the show based on their score, in a nutshell,” Dehley said. “Each show indepently does that — they have different standards that they look for when they’re jurying their show. You’re pretty much going to see, they’re all juried art fairs; so you’re going to see high-quality work throughout the entire event.”

A lot of the differences, however, depend on the missions of the organizations running them. The State Street Art Fair and the South University Art Fair, for example, are run by area associations, so the fairs serve as fundraisers for the association. The goal of the Guild is to provide marketing opportunities for artists. The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original is organized by a nonprofit that aims to bring art and culture in the community.

“You’ll see very similar art throughout the whole event — more of the difference lies behind the scenes,” Delhey said.

Each fair has a featured artist whose work is displayed on T-shirts and posters; generally that artist is picked the year prior.

Sarah Goodyear, a painter from North Carolina, is The Guild’s featured artist. Her piece, entitled “Rage Louise,” features a woman who appears to be screaming.

“It’s awesome,” Delhey said. “It’s a really interesting piece, and we’re excited about it this year. It’s her first time doing the fair.”

Frances Todoro is the executive director of the State Street District, which oversees the State Street Art Fair, now celebrating its 50th year. Todoro noted the importance of the historical aspect of the fair.  

“Back in the days of (bargaining) when the local businesses would come outside for sidewalk sales … it kind of built into an art fair,” she said. “Over the 50 years, providing that extra income or that economic catalyst has been huge in kind of forming the quality of our neighborhood and who we are.”

Furthermore, Todoro said what sets the State Street Art Fair apart is its “eclectic feel.”

“We mix artists with the local businesses and the local members,” she said. “You could be walking down the street and have a fine artist and then you have (the shop) Orchid Lane, then you have more art, and then you have Knight’s (restaurant).”

The State Street Art Fair’s featured artist is Andy Anh Ha, a mixed-media painter from Los Angeles .

“He just did an amazing job,” Todoro said. “We did do T-shirts with his art on it, a poster, which is hanging around the district, in our local businesses.”

For its 50th year, however, Todoro said the fair has worked with a local artist — referred to as the district artist — Tim Gralewski, who did a piece specific to the district. The work will remain in the district after the fair.

The fair will also hold its second People’s Choice Award, in which fair goers can walk around and vote for their favorite artist.

“You get three chances to text your favorite artist — you can either do one artist three times, or you can pick three different artists,” she said. “The artists do receive awards — first, second and third place — they receive a monetary award. They also receive an automatic re-invite to next year.”

The featured artist for the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original is Debo Groover — a 2-D mixed-media artist, who uses polymer clay as a medium. As a tradition, the fair requires whichever work serves as its primary poster piece by its featured artist to display Burton Tower — located on Central Campus and central to the specific fair — in some way. This year, Groover’s piece features a dog carrying a toy replica of Burton Memorial Tower in its mouth.

“If you see the medium up close, there is texture to it, it’s not flat,” Riley said. “All of the colored pieces that you see are actually polymer clay that are raised above the surface. It’s actually, in person, much brighter than it appears, we can’t seem to capture the intense brightness of the piece. It’s really wonderful.”

Additionally Riley’s fair is the only one of the four that requires all of its work to be original.

“What that means is we don’t allow any offset reproductions,” she said. “If you see a painting in the Street Art Fair — it’s an original painting. It’s not a copy of the original, it’s the original.”

The Street Art Fair will also welcome Legoland Discovery Center Michigan — an indoor playground located at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills — as part of their Art Activity Zone on Ingalls Mall. Attendees can build with Lego bricks.

“You can actually work on a mural that they are installing in their new Michigan, Legoland Discovery (Center),” she said.

There are also stations where attendees can work on mosaics with representatives from the Detroit Institute of Arts, create figurines with representatives from Cranbrook Educational Community and explore specimens from the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

For the South University Art Fair, construction obstructing the bulk of the street has been a concern for organizers; nevertheless, construction barrels have been set aside and the show will go on.

Maggie Ladd, the director of the South University Art Fair, said construction is stopped temporarily for the fair but will continue afterward.

“The project was slated to be completed by Art Fair — the entire project,” she said. “Unfortunately, things happen … The idea was to do the north side first and then the south side. When they were working on the north side of the 1200 block, they discovered that the water main needed to be replaced. So that was why the whole project was delayed, because no one was expecting that to happen.”

Ladd said the South University district has worked with the Downtown Development Authority and their project manager Elizabeth Rolla.

“I had confidence that we would be up and running for Art Fair, and we are,” Ladd said. “All of the artists will be there from Forest all the way down to State and then on East University and Church Street.”

Ladd said she wanted to get the word out that the art fair is still happening on South University.

The fair’s featured artist is Sharon Tesser, a fiber artist who hand dyes recycled cloth; according to Ladd, she sketches her art and uses fabric to build up the piece.

“We’ve used two pieces of hers this year, and that’s the first time we’ve done that — use two pieces from an artist,” Ladd said. “Our T-shirts, some of them have (her) pear design, and some of them have a face design of hers.”

The fair will also feature work from Bill Secunda, who has been on sabbatical for the last few years but decided to come back to the fair, according to Ladd. Secunda makes giant statues that Ladd said are “crowd-pleasers.”

In addition to the artwork, Delhey said she would encourage attendees to look out for the entertainment.

“We have some great entertainment that will be on site this year,” she said. “I know the main stage on South University and Church — they have Keri Lynn Roche who comes back; she’s been here the last couple years. She’s their headliner.”

Roche is an Ann Arbor native and competed on American Idol.

Additionally, the Guild partners with The Ark, a local music venue, to compose the lineup for their stage on Main Street; there is also an open mic opportunity on Thursday night.