Nicario Jimenez of Peru crafts intricate, colorful, three-dimensional scenes, be it Peruvian pastoral life or modern American cities. His small figurines are carefully carved out of a doughy mixture of boiled potato and gypsum powder and are then painted and displayed in a meticulously designed portable wooden box. Jimenez has had success as an innovative folk artist and one of his works is on permanent display at the Smithsonian, but Jimenez will be just one among many artists taking over the streets of Ann Arbor this week.
On Wednesday, artists and craftsmen from across the globe will be display ceramics, paintings, jewelry, sculptures, photography, glass, wood and fiber works. Not to be mistaken for a quaint craft fair, the Ann Arbor Art Fairs are a serious business with booths, artists and art connoisseurs sprawled across the University’s campus and the Main Street areas.
Just as the city is beginning to resemble a ghost town, an estimated 500,000 will jam into it by minivan, shuttle bus and metro car to browse the four award-winning fairs.
The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is the original fair featuring 175 handpicked artists as well as the Infiniti Stage near the Burton bell tower with ongoing musical performances from a diverse array of performers, many local. An art fair staple, blues and boogie pianoman Mr. B will be in playing in the street on North University.
Combing the creative community and the student population, the fair has a special showcase for art and design students from the University as well as Eastern Michigan University and the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. The New Art New Artists Program gives students a chance to have their works juried by professionals while allowing them to have first-hand experience with selling their work directly to customers.
The State Street Art Fair, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Street Area Association and features 400 artists as well as sidewalk sales and outdoor dining. The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair is more focused on local artists and is sponsored by the Guild of Artists and Artisans, which is a non-profit membership association of independent Ann Arbor artists. To exploit the city’s streets to full advantage, the original art fair moved from the South University district to campus in 2003, and the South University Retailers Association took over the site with the Ann Arbor South University Art Fair.
Shary Brown, executive director of the the Street Art Fair, said that in spite of resident complaints about the crowds generated by the fair, it is an important event for the city’s economy, bringing in visitors to local restaurants, shops and hotels. The fairs combined generate approximately $11 to $12 million in art sales, which brings in sales tax revenue for the state treasury. Additionally, Brown explained, the art fairs are one of the most distinctive and defining events in the city.
One of the most exciting aspects of the fair is the ambiance of a bustling and lively city with outdoor restaurant tents and live music. One musical highlight is sure to be Ann Arbor natives jazz-funk fusion group the Macpodz performing Thursday at 9 on the main stage at the corner of Ashley and Liberty. “The Art Fair is a great showcase for us,” the band’s trumpet player, Ross Huff said. “It’s one of those things; if we’re going to have to have our streets blocked off, we may as well have a huge party. If you can’t beat’em join’em.”