Nearly 1,000 artists flocked to the streets of downtown Ann Arbor Wednesday through Saturday to display their work at the 55th annual Ann Arbor Art Fair.
Though the fair is comprised of four separate art shows, because each fair is connected to the others, attendees feel as though the event is singular in nature. Debra Clayton, Executive Director of the Guild of Artists and Artisans, said the guild has a tagline they use — four fairs, one event.
The Ann Arbor Art Street Fair was first to emerge in 1960 as an “Experiment in Arts and Crafts.” Shortly after in 1967, the State Street Area Association established its own fair in its commercial district, and the fair continued to grow when the Free Arts Festival found local artists to participate in 1970. This fair is now known as the Summer Art Fair, sponsored by the Guild of Artists and Artisans, and is located on Main Street and the portion of State Street which runs along the University’s campus. After the Original Street Fair moved to the streets surrounding Burton Tower in 2003, the South University Area Association hosted artists in the area formerly occupied by the Original Street fair.
Clayton said overall, though each portion of Art Fair may differ in their specific mission, it’s a collaborative event held together by the city’s overall atmosphere both for the fairs and for other groups downtown, such as businesses.
“People like to come here, experience our stores, our restaurants, the University campus, the museum,” Clayton said. “ You find it’s a happy marriage and it’s a family and you think that part of this family is the artists, the stores, the restaurants, the University—everybody kind of benefits.”
AJ Davidson, vice president of the Bivouac store in Ann Arbor, has worked outside of his store during Art Fair for the past 15 years. He said the event allows the store to sell old merchandise and bring in the new, making rotation both easier and more efficient.
“It brings a lot of people downtown, which is a lot of people into our store and it’s great,” Davidson said.
In addition to art, nonprofit organizations are also given space at the fair. Organizations present this year included those representing animal rights, different political leanings, news publications, and various religious stances, among others.
“I think they’re all doing the same thing— mostly to promote awareness,” said Dave Arnoldi, a volunteer at the Huron Valley Humane Society.
When it comes to the artists themselves, those who exhibit their work at the fair include both longtime returning individuals as well as new ones.
Maureen Riley, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Street Fair, said the amount of new vendors has grown as baby boomers retire, resulting in a shift in the aesthetics. She added that the Art Fair itself continues to grow in the diversity of work it tries to present.
“That’s the beauty of the Ann Arbor Art Fair,” Riley said. “Anybody can find something they like, and at a price point they can afford.”
One artist, David O’Dell from Lake Orion, Michigan said he was mostly accustomed to participating in galleries. He creates rock ‘n’ roll posters as well as prints of cars, taken from photographs his father took decades ago at events such as Beatles concerts and the Indie 500.
“I’m trying to figure out what goes well in a fair,” O’Dell said. “But people said you should try the Ann Arbor Fair—it’s fabulous.”
Jerry Wygant, an artist from Pentwater, Michigan who works with various types of wood he collects himself, was stationed on State Street in his permanent spot for the 12th year. He began working with wood to make jewelry and other accessories over 25 years ago.
“The reason I love the whole show is that I meet so many educated people here,” Wygant said. “They’re working on doctorates and they’re from all over the world and they’re interesting people.”
Oil painter Kevin Liang has been coming from New York to sell his work at the event for 28 years. Like many artists, he said he makes a point of including the Ann Arbor Art Fair in his road trip itinerary, comprised of various fairs across the nation.
While the fair attracts artists from long distances, it also holds the attention of local residents. Ann Arbor resident Carolyn Garay, an artist at this year’s fair, said she was waitlisted for the past three years and was assigned her own tent for the first time this year. Although sales are always welcome, she said she hopes primarily to gain exposure and learn from those passing by.
“Seeing the work outside my own eyes and making connections with people is really what it’s all about,” Garay said. “It’s finding that human connection over the cross of very different people.”
During Art Fair, Clayton said, Ann Arbor serves as a locale where these different people with different tastes can come together and share their work with others.
“We’re part of the whole personality of this city, we’re part of the energy and the culture,” she said. “And this wouldn’t happen without the artists, and it wouldn’t happen for the artists without Ann Arbor.”