Summer is in full bloom in Ann Arbor. With the warmer weather and longer days, residents are preparing for a seasonal tradition — the Ann Arbor Art Fairs.

The fairs are expected to bring around 500,000 fairgoers into downtown Ann Arbor to view art from more than 1,000 artists from around the country. Besides viewing artists’ work, fairgoers can also take in a variety of events, ranging from artist workshops and a virtual nature tour to performances by local and regional music, magic and dance groups.

All four fairs (Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, State Street Area Fair, Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, South University Art Fair) are independently run and require potential exhibitors to submit their work for admission, and each one is known for their competitive policies.

The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the oldest of the four, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Shary Brown, executive director of the Street Art Fair, attributes the fair’s longevity to its place within Ann Arbor’s culture.

“I think it’s been the support of the community,” Brown said. “I don’t think that any organization or institution would be successful over the long haul if it didn’t have the support of the community.”

This year, the Street Art Fair on Ingalls Mall will feature 145 artists, along with work from The Potters Guild and area students. Going into its 50th year, Brown hopes that the fair continues to bring interesting work to Ann Arbor.

“One of the ways that we approached this anniversary is to take a look at our traditions and honor those traditions.” Brown said, “For 50 years, we’ve had a strong connection with our artists and bringing them to our community so that our community can enjoy really high-quality, innovative work from artists who make it.”

Since all four fairs have at least a decade of experience, the risk of repeating themselves can run high. Still, Max Clayton, executive director for The Guild of Artists and Artisans — the group that organizes the Summer Art Fair — credits the artists for making sure the fairs stay creatively fresh year after year.

“Every year, every artist who comes is continually working on new work … The fair never looks the same from year to year,” Clayton said.

“Even a handful of the same artists are in the same location, but that doesn’t look the same at all, because they’re always discovering something new, improving, changing and I think the energy of that goes throughout the entire event,” Clayton added.

The fairs have not been immune to the effects of the current recession, though, as both fair organizers and artists have had to be more prudent. Organizers have cut back on everything from exhibitor slots to amenities, but Kathy Krick, director of the State Street Area Art Fair, said that artist support for the fairs has helped keep interest high.

“(The artists are) very resilient and they know it might be a tough year, but I think most of our artists are willing to give it a shot,” Krick said.

Likewise, for students in the local artistic community like Kevin McKay, an Art & Design senior, the fairs provide a valuable platform for aspiring professional artists to reach out to a large audience.

As a featured artist in the New Art, New Artists program, McKay will have his work featured throughout the Street Art Fair, along with seven other students from the University, Eastern Michigan and Washtenaw Community College.

McKay said that he’s especially grateful for the chance to participate in the program and display his work throughout the Fairs.

“I think it’s really good that they do this and allow some young people that wouldn’t normally be able to afford the space an opportunity to do something like this,” McKay said.

Whether you’re looking for young talent, live performances or a pleasant walk through the streets of Ann Arbor, the four fairs have something for everyone.

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