Aarica Marsh: All in for the Art Fair

Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 10:48pm

Imagine this: It’s Wednesday, 10 a.m. (Thursday if it’s 2016 or later).

I watch as a volunteer trips over her feet crossing through two lanes of traffic at the North University and Fletcher Street intersection. She drops a handful of candle wicks in the middle of the intersection as she does a run-walk to the Diag. She’s on her way to the Art Activity Zone, which is sponsoring The Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor in their “Burning Bright at the Fair,” an art project that involves the creation of beeswax candles.

She snatches them up, right next to my front car bumper as I wait at the stop sign in the crowded intersection. The streets of Ann Arbor are slowly coming alive as Fair goers trickle in from the outskirts, unloading in hoards out of AAATA buses and Trinity Park and Ride Shuttles.

I took the wrong way to work, veering right to take Washtenaw because I thought it might not be as busy as my usual Packard Street route.

That was a huge mistake.

***

The Ann Arbor Art Fair actually consists of four separate art fairs combined for ease of services — the Ann Arbor Street Fair, the State Street Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair and Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair. The eldest, the Ann Arbor Street Fair is celebrating its 56th year. The others are 48-, 46- and 16-years-old, respectively.

Attractions at the Art Fair are highly expansive. Demonstrations on North University include printmaking, ceramics, photography, drawing and wood projects. Artist exhibits, in all sorts of mediums, throughout all four fairs can be located on the official art fair map. The Diag will be host to the Art Activity Zone, where at least five “kid-friendly” art projects open to all of the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Art Fair Main Stage is located on the corner of Willard and Church Street and will feature artists such as the Cadillac Cowboys and Ann Arbor’s Keri Lynn Roche.

This year, the Art Fair has four featured artists. Chuck Wimmer, Katie Hofacker, Dylan Strzynski and Ralph Rankin, that will be featured by Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Street Fair and the State Street Art Fair, respectively.

***

The streets are filled with booths, tents and stands, selling food, cheap crafts and cliché paintings meant for lakeside cottages. A variety of fair-goers crowd the streets, mingling with artists and other pedestrians as they make their way through the collections.

I’m finally able to get to the parking spot I rent from a student who lives on Packard Street. I arrive at work after an eight minute speed-walk through a field of white tents. Maynard Street is covered with artist exhibits and stands with cute, but cheaply made earrings for sale at $10 a piece. I arrive at work and my coworker, running around hurriedly behind the counter, looks frazzled, her hair falling out of her ponytail in small, ombre wisps. Six people wait in line at the register as the two employees on shift scurry around, trying to finish their tasks and help the customers that keep piling in.

I grab an apron and jump in.

The day goes by in a blur. Our sales are higher than they’ve been all summer, and our stock is depleted. Twelve people came in asking for a glass of water; our store policy is to only give water glasses to customers who have bought something. I caved and gave a glass to the 12-year-old. Who can deny a kid?

I watched my boss chase five people down when they tried to use the bathroom without making a purchase. She’s maybe 5’2”, with a tiny frame and a demanding, but well-meaning, demeanor. Some pedestrians snuck by her without a second glance, freely using the restrooms and tables at their convenience.

The worst, of course, is the rude customers — the people who believe everything is about them and everyone else should realize that. They exhibit disgusting behavior and make the transaction a living hell for everyone involved. Luckily, there are usually only a few of them.

I finish my shift around 6 p.m. and find the streets have begun to empty. I walk tiredly back to my car, preparing myself mentally for the next three days.

The Art Fair, with its highly annoying hoards of people and parking nightmare, has its charm. It’s an annual tradition and a celebration of art. The original Art Fair’s goal, after all, is to “increase public knowledge and appreciation for contemporary fine arts and fine crafts by creating opportunities that connect artists, the Ann Arbor community and the general public to their mutual benefit, culminating in a top quality juried street art fair.”

In the end, how can any celebration of art, no matter how pretentious, really be that bad?

Aarica Marsh can be reached aaricama@umich.edu.