Boxes of pizza, t-shirts and supplies were stacked in a crowded office space last week as volunteers and staff members prepared for the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.

Ann Arbor Art Fair

Tomorrow through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“Right now, it’s crazy in our office,” Executive Director Maureen Riley said with a laugh as she described the scene. “It’s pretty chaotic, but fun.”

Celebrating its 53rd year, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is the oldest of four art fairs taking place in downtown Ann Arbor. The other three art fairs are the State Street Area Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair and Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair. Each year, the four art fairs attract a total of more than 500,000 visitors from all over the country.

Riley said the collective Ann Arbor Art Fair is “one of the largest in the country and it’s one of the best in the country.”

“I think part of the reason that it’s been so successful is that there is something for everyone here,” she said.

Many different types of art will be showcased at the art fair, including clay, furniture, glass, jewelry, metalsmithing, mixed media, sculpture and wood. At the Street Art Fair, there will be food, sidewalk sales, street performances, art activity zones and artist demonstrations, as well as music and dance performances from community and student groups on the Fountain Stage.

One new attraction at this year’s Street Art Fair is a street painting. Artist Taurus Burns will be creating a 15-ft by 18-ft chalk reproduction of John Singleton Copley’s “Watson and the Shark”. The street painting will be located at the corner of E. Washington Street and Ingalls Mall.

Riley said she’s wanted to see street painting at the Art Fair some time now.

“The biggest challenge is finding funding for those sorts of activities,” she said, particularly due to the struggling national economy. “If the funding arrives, then we’ll do a lot more of it.”

The Street Art Fair also coordinates the New Art, New Artists program. Street Art Fair Artist Coordinator Niki Hogan explained that each year, students enrolled in colleges in Michigan can submit an application to the art fair, just like the other art fair artists. Then, the college students’ art is evaluated through a jury process and if they’re selected, the students receive their own booths at the art fair to display and sell their artwork.

“I think it’s such a great experience for them to do that,” Hogan said. “They’ve had to come up with their layout for the tent all by themselves — their display stuff — so just to see them follow through from when we accepted them to now, actually creating their first art fair exhibits — I’m excited about that aspect of it.”

Riley said the program “is designed specifically to provide an opportunity for college students to experience being an art fair artist without having to shoulder the cost of starting up a business enterprise, which is what all of these artists are — they’re independent business people.”

Hogan is also looking forward to the art activity zone:

“That’s something that I have sort of put my heart and soul in,” she said. “We have eight organizations that are coming and leading free art activities for families that come through and some of the activities that we have are just phenomenal. They’re going to be fun.”

In addition, many attractions at the art fair are family-friendly.

“They really cater to families and kids up there,” said featured artist Julie Beyer. Before she was selected as the featured artist at this year’s Street Art Fair, she visited the art fair almost every summer with her family during the past decade. “My kids loved it. It was a great field trip for them.”

A resident of Dayton, Ohio, Beyer is surprised and honored by her selection as the featured artist.

“I just feel so lucky to even be where I am. It’s actually just so surreal because, I mean, if you would have said to me five years ago, ‘You’ll be the featured artist in the street art fair someday,’ I would have just laughed,” Beyer said. “It’s a dream, really.”

Beyer’s artwork is filled with allusions to childhood. She describes her artwork as “colorful, not serious.” Hogan said Beyer’s artwork “fits really well for an art fair, especially her imagery.” Beyer’s artwork will be on display at booth number A239 at the Street Art Fair.

Beyer also said that themes of freedom and independence naturally appear in her artwork.

“If I have something completely different in mind and I start painting it, it completely morphs into my old style. It’s like I can’t do anything else — it just comes out. It’s not planned.”

Hogan said she believes visiting the art fair will be a valuable opportunity for children.

“It’s a great experience for the kids — to sort of expose them to art and culture at a young age,” Hogan said. “Hopefully they carry that on when they get older.”

More generally, she hopes all visitors develop “a love for the arts” after they attend the art fair.

As the art fair begins on Wednesday, Riley remains mindful of its strong tradition.

“The public has viewed this event as a seamlessly produced art fair for 53 years and that’s what we want them to see,” she said. “We take what we learn from year to year, try and make it easier and better, and wait for the results. Hopefully we are successful at that.”

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