Monday, two days before the Art Fair hit downtown Ann Arbor, the organizers of the Original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair held a party.
The Original Street Art Fair is one of four fairs that make up the full event.
Mostly devoid of the attributes familiar to Art Fair attendees — the only art that’s sold is from kids in the area during the Kids’ Art Fair, bands play and booths are filled primarily by local businesses and community organizations — the Townie Street Party is also a noticeably smaller event than the hundreds of thousands of visitors that flood the streets of Ann Arbor for the actual fair.
In fact, in contrast to the actual fair, it doesn’t really attract people from out of town at all. Instead, it’s primarily attended by Ann Arbor residents.
Ann Arbor resident Derek Davis, who attended this year’s Townie Street Party, said connecting with other residents is one of the highlights of the event.
“Just to see other residents, it’s cool to kind of see people that you know from around town,” he said. “And the outside environment’s kind of neat, good music. It’s very Ann Arbor.”
Ann Arbor residents Adrian Cleypool and Gus Gustafon echoed Davis’s sentiment.
“The music, and seeing more old Ann Arborites — it works for that especially well,” Cleypool said.
Maureen Riley, Ann Arbor Street Art Fair executive director, said the event was started with the goal of strengthening bonds between the community and the fair.
“It’s an event that we put on to involve residents in the preparations and fun of the Art Fair, and to say ‘thank you’,” she said. “We certainly know that Art Fair can be an inconvenience to many that work in the downtown area, and we appreciate their willingness to accommodate us and understand the value of the Art Fair to the city and the economic impact we have on our community.”
Though the Townie Street Party is only 10 years old to the fair’s 54 years, that theme of strengthening community relations has long been a defining factor of the city and fair’s relationship, as the two figure out how to balance an event that now draws roughly 500,000 people into the area, multiplying Ann Arbor’s population almost by six as well as shutting down significant portions of the downtown area.
City Councilmember Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) said the fair is without a doubt an important Ann Arbor event.
“The Art Fair brings millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of people,” Taylor said. “It is a self-evident good for the economy and the cultural vitality of the city.”
Taylor, along with City Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) sponsored a measure this year to allocate $10,000 to the Original Street Art Fair in the fiscal year 2015 city budget.
He added that while a large proportion of attendees are from out of town, he thinks residents also enjoy the fair.
“I think numbers demonstrate that a lot of people come in from out of town, and I think that’s great,” he said. “I also think people in Ann Arbor tend to like the Art Fair. It’s exciting, its vibrant — I’m not sure that everybody loves all the Art Fair all the time. I think the residents of Ann Arbor value the events and they like to take part in the city and like to show visitors what we have to offer.”
Riley said when it comes to benefits for the city, along with the about $80 million in economic impact it brings, the fair also plays a big part in quality of life in the area.
“Almost every ranking that comes out that puts Ann Arbor as a great place to live almost inevitably mentions the Art Fair as one of the reasons,” she said. “The arts and culture in this community are one of the major factors in the quality of life here.”
Cleypool, who sells t-shirts during the fair, and Gustafson, who said he likes to come listen to music on Church Street, said in the end, the event is manageable.
“I hop on the bus, get off at one end of the art fair and walk the art fair to the other end,” Gustafson said.
“We’ve been around for so long that we know how to deal with it,” Cleypool added.
Riley said in turn, the background of Ann Arbor is part of what contributes to the fair’s draw.
“It’s partly Ann Arbor,” she said. “The fact that it’s in Ann Arbor, and that the nature of our city, and the ambiance that we have here make the event unique.”