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Posted on Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor Art Fair: What does the future hold for downtown's long-standing event?

By Lizzy Alfs

By now, we know the drill: During the third week in July, about 500,000 people will descend upon downtown Ann Arbor for a four-day, juried art festival that showcases work by more than 1,000 artists.

In its 54th year, the Ann Arbor Art Fair — which is actually four simultaneous fairs running July 17-20 — has become a staple of Ann Arbor summers.

Fair organizers report the economic impact of the Art Fair on the community is huge; it generates an estimated $78 million in shopping, hotel and restaurant spending. It’s coined one of the largest art festivals in North America, drawing artists from 38 states and four countries this year.


Fairgoers wander the 2012 South University Art Fair. The Ann Arbor Art Fair returns July 17-20. file photo

To the average fairgoer, the Ann Arbor Art Fair might have a familiar feel year after year. But behind the scenes, the fairs’ lead organizers are making constant tweaks to the event and asking themselves: What can we improve?

An evolving art festival

It took a half-century for the Ann Arbor Art Fair to become what it is today.

The event started as an “experiment in arts in crafts” in 1960, featuring work of 132 artists on two blocks of South University Avenue. The original fair was later named the Street Art Fair.

The State Street Art Fair started in 1968, followed by the Summer Art Fair in 1970. In 2000, Art Fair Village was set up on Church Street, later becoming the South University Art Fair when the original Street Fair relocated to the Burton Carillon Tower area. (Read more about the history)


The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair T-shirts, along with shirts for the three other fairs, are being printed at Underground Printing in advance of this year's event.

Melanie Maxwell |

Together, the four fairs now span 30 blocks of downtown and near the University of Michigan’s campus.

But as the art fair grew in size and popularity, organizers started hearing complaints about accessibility.

“There were many years where there was a lot of criticism about how crowded the fair was, and we take that seriously,” explained Maureen Riley, director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. “We look at where logs are in the traffic flow, and we fix those.”

“Then, we looked at statements about the art fair being too big, and asked, ‘What can we do to ease or enhance our visitors’ experience?’” she continued. “That led to the development of the Art Fair Trolley.”

This year, the fair also added a fourth shuttle option, which is located at Huron High School.

“That’s very exciting,” Riley said. “We’re thrilled to be able to provide that service for visitors coming from that direction."

Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair Director Max Clayton said over time, they’ve also made a number of technology updates, from introducing an Ann Arbor Art Fair iPhone application to creating a digital art category.

“There’s this constant adaptation of what the computer means to art,” she said.

The art fair organizers are always looking for new ways to keep fairgoers interested. Interactive artist booths and live music stages create buzz among attendees.


Each summer, there are dozens of art festivals in Michigan alone. From Arts, Beats & Eats in Royal Oak to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, the state’s art scene is thriving.

According to the Washtenaw County Economic Impact Analysis, $114 is spent per travel party per day during the Ann Arbor Art Fair, and $263 if those visitors are staying in hotels.

Mary Kerr of the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau said many of the Ann Arbor area’s hotels reach full occupancy during art fair.

“When you had the recession in full swing, you definitely saw art fair attendance diminished throughout the country,” Clayton said. “But what’s really incredible is that right now, attendance is better than ever and I’m seeing that at all of our events.”

But with so many art events in the state, it raises the question: Are there pressures to compete with other festivals and attract artists to the Ann Arbor Art Fair?

Like the Ann Arbor fair, ArtPrize in downtown Grand Rapids draws an estimated 500,000 people to the 19-day event, which is an art competition juried by the public with a $200,000 top prize. It has garnered national attention since its inception in 2009.

“I applaud ArtPrize immensely for just the idea and implementing it,” Riley said. “It’s a different animal than the Ann Arbor Art Fair in that the art fair artists make their living by going to different art fairs to sell their work. They are small business people that travel the country.”


Ev Schwartz, Troy, looks at Wheaton, Ill., artist Michael McKee's pastels at the South University Art Fair on the second day of the Ann Arbor art fairs in 2010. file photo

Added Clayton: “I think they are complementary, and I think what ArtPrize is doing is extremely interesting and it will be a model for a lot of new events across the country.”

Any art-related event that gets Michigan national recognition is a bonus in the arts world, they said.

Maggie Ladd, director of the South University Art Fair, said attracting quality artists to the Ann Arbor Art Fair has never been an issue; the majority of artists return if they are invited back.

“(The Ann Arbor Art Fair) has quality, size and longevity,” she said. “We’ve been industry leaders for a long time.”

Visions for the future

Although the fair is always being improved, there is still work to do, the organizers said.

Ladd said for the Ann Arbor Art Fair to remain “cutting edge,” they need to invest in things like an Android application, social media and a joint art fair website.

“Keeping the fairs cutting edge and keeping up with everything we need to do to maintain our standards — that’s where the competition comes in,” she said. “Those things are all very expensive and very hard for nonprofits to pull off.”


One-man-band Mr. JoJangles, of Detroit, preforms for a small crowd on East Liberty Street during the State Street Art Fair in 2012.

Melanie Maxwell I file photo

The art fair directors also discuss other changes, like shifting the days of the fair or expanding the entertainment offerings, but that would require input from the artists, merchants and city, and it’s probably not something that would happen anytime soon.

“We daydream a lot about what we could do,” Clayton said. “What about something where artists could display their work in various places around Ann Arbor year-round? Should we shift the days from Wednesday to Saturday, to Thursday to Sunday?”

“I don’t think we are in a position right now to make a major change, but I think we’re in a position to assess what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” she added.

As for the size of the fair, the directors agreed: At the moment, it’s ideal.

“I would never want to make this fair so big that it becomes truly hard for a fairgoer to enjoy it,” Clayton said. “But I want it to remain one of the largest fairs in the country, because that is who we are and how we built our reputation.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Tue, Jul 23, 2013 : 4:08 p.m.

way to big,way to crowded,way to expensive.besides that the weather is usually either very hot or stormy,or both.obviously they can't control the weather but they can the other things.DOWNSIZE FOR SURE. Moving it to Fall sounds good except for FOOTBALL which means sooner or later it will have to be in different weeks because the schedule differs from year to year on home and away games.

Lets Get Real

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 : 10:15 p.m.

More and more I notice Ann Arborites leave town during Art Fair. You can't get anywhere, downtown businesses - other than food and merchandise related businesses, can't see clients (i.e. attorneys, CPA, psychologists, even gyms, and banks suffer) Traffic is awful. Unless you are in the hospitality industry - why stay. Glad for the small businesses who do have Christmas in July, but walking around, in hot sweaty crowds, avoiding people with crying babies and drooling dogs, looking at overpriced, outlandish "art" is not what I do for fun. Hats off to those who love it. Thanks for doing it here.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 11:38 p.m.

The reason kids get their education and then leave A2, is simply because there are no jobs here. My son received a BFA in Interactive Motion Design at Eastern. He did an internship with one of the largest Ad agencies in NYC. They offered him a great job, which he declined, because he and his wife did not like work. He sent his resume' and portfolio all over the country, and received callbacks and job offers all over the country (except Ann Arbor) He chose Portland, OR. Now he makes a high six figure salary, and they are truly happy. In short. Well educated students from this area move where the jobs are.

Irwin Daniels

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:51 p.m.

To me the Art Fair has really changed - years ago we had music throughout the fairs (most of it really rocked) and it was a blast. The music went into the evening (not too late), but it was fun. Nowadays the Art Fair has "SET STAGES", and very limited times and type of music. The numbers are down, and I think the reasons are plentiful - price of parking (including trying to get into town), food prices go way up - the places that do this know who they are also. Not enough police are present and about - with heat and also late at night things can and usually get very crazy especially near the end of the fairs. I don't have a solution however; hopefully the city (HA) can make the change in a great way that benefits everyone.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

People are paying too much money for the art offered at the fair in Ann Arbor. My mom and Aunt who attend art fairs in Wisconsin and Illinois have seen artists they are familiar with here, and they were asking 50 to 100 percent higher for pieces they had seen previous weekends. They asked the artists they knew and were told the fees to display here were extremely high, so they had to charge more. My advice is to go to some other area and save a considerable amount of money.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 10:56 a.m.

julies, yes, they are allowed to eat. I am saying you can buy the EXACT same art from the SAME artist at other fairs for much lower prices. If anyone is taking money out of the artist's pocket, it is the Ann Arbor Art fair organizers with their exorbitant fees.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 11:40 p.m.

Artists need to eat, too, Snarfy.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

I remember when the Art Fair was started, and it was started to bring people into Ann Arbor during the summer. Back then the U ran 2 semesters and the students actually went home for the summer. Ahhh, how peaceful it was and the townies had run of the town. Last time I went to Art Fair was 1967. The introduction of the State Street segment in 1968 ruined the nice little fair. I've no need to go, I know where the other 2 block long art fair are around the state, and I frequent them. I wonder who is offering a 50-year "did not attend art fair" T-shirt? I'll be looking for one soon.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

NSider, great idea!! Underground printing, are you listening?


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

Yup! Like everything else in this town, it's over-rated and over-priced!


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

I like that idea... a tee shirt that says "I did not attend the Art Fair!"


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 10:57 a.m.

I've been here for 14 years and still love the Art Fair.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 4:49 a.m.

YYAAAAAWWWWWNN!! Time to stay inside where it's nice and cool, for a few days...


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:23 a.m.

I eagerly await each year to see what the new must-have art-on-a-stick fad will be. The elephant ears are good, too. Other than that, I find the crowds be be dehumanizing.

Frustrated in A2

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:01 a.m.

I just saw Mr. JoJangles in Chicago this past weekend, that guy gets around I see!


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 8:13 p.m.

Yes, and he's quite good, I'd give him $$ before I buy anything!


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 1:13 a.m.

15+ years ago, I used to enjoy attending Art Fair because of the wide variety of interesting, free musical acts sprinkled around town. Whatever music is left no longer grabs me.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

It's all commercialized. The spontaneous music and other street events are all gone.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:26 a.m.

Noyfbo What you call a "money grab" is just natural evolution in a capitalist society. I, an artsy hippie-type, like living in America and in Ann Arbor. They don't miss me when I no longer attend the art fairs because there are enough people who come and spend money as it is and apparently it is good for the town coffers. An art fair consisting of only high quality art might succeed if there is incentive for the high quality artist to come and sit in the streets. The incentive could come from purchases or from a big donor, but I, and others like me, apparently, don't spend enough to demand such a change. Roll with it, enjoy what you can, and encourage the visitors to eat in our restaurants. Amen.


Tue, Jul 23, 2013 : 4:18 p.m.

the problem is high quality art means different things to different people.whyat criteria do people who "make the call' use? Me,i'm not an artist and don't know the first thing about art other than what i like and what i don't like.also i haven't been to an Art Fair in probably 12-15 years and don't plan on attending the one in Ann Arbor or anywhere else anytime soon.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 10:58 p.m.

What started out as a cool thing turned into a money grab. Who cares? Welcome to America.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

Like so many other things in AA......monetized and ruined.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 10:31 p.m.

if you want to go to the art fair, go. if not, don't.


Tue, Jul 23, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

that's the way it is

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 10:09 p.m.

Anyone have a five wide stroller I can borrow? I want to walk around art fair with it.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

Hey, there's an idea. maybe I can borrow a tank from the military and......oh, never mind.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Just follow one of the dozens that will be out there!


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 6:11 p.m.

There is an Art Fair circuit that many unknown artists attend. They travel from city to city. As an artist, I have an agent who sells my work in Chicago and New York. I've been with him since I was 20 years old. He takes a 15% cut. I still make a very good living from my work, and can stay away from the bedlam that is the Ann Arbor Art Fair.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:59 p.m.

I never understand why people who choose to live in Ann Arbor then complain about everything Ann Arbor does and offers. I hate the Art Fair, Football Saturdays, student, the University... If you don't want to live in a town with events, move someplace else. You're obviously not living here because it's all you can afford (re: it's not cheap)


Tue, Jul 23, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

many people live in Ann Arbor very honestly for the snob appeal.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

@CLX I agree that for the most part there's some constructive criticism. If you want to say what you think would make the Art Fair better is fine. But there's almost as many "I hope it rains" or "YAWWNN" comments. I just think people who live in towns that do thing after thing they don't like aren't too bright to live there. (And watch, it's rarely "I love football Saturdays, but hate Art Fair"'s usually "I hate everything that inconveniences ME.") @NSider - Not sure if serious? How many people are still around who were "born here" before Art Fair started? Or better yet, were born in Ann Arbor before there was a University here full of students you want to just leave? (Answer, none). I think you're missing the how funny it is to use as an example a breadmaker who came and settled here because he came here to get his PhD first. @JRW- as I said above: people have the right to complain about things (a straw man, no one is infringing on any freedom of speech), it's just stupid to complain about everything in a city (and look, it's usually the same people who hate all the events) and still live there. But you are correct, people have every right constitutionally to be stupid.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

Commenting on a huge event such as the Art Fair and pointing out the negative aspects does not mean that people who live here need to move elsewhere or not comment. That's like saying that residents have to live where they think everything is wonderful and not express opinions that are negative about anything in their town or city. That's just not reality. Many residents love the city and still are free to express critical comments on events or other aspects of the city. The majority of comments about this article are not particularly positive, but most offer constructive suggestions. Everyone has a right to express their opinion about the city of Ann Arbor, and it's events, positive or negative.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:14 p.m.

I remember an article in the AA News (when it was still in print) about the wonderful guy that came to Ann Arbor to get his PhD (he was successful) but decided he wanted to be in AA as a bread maker. Yep, he makes bread. As a person who was born here, post WWII, the reason we carp about many things AA-related is because it really is our HOME TOWN. Sure, sure, the nation has grown and everything has changed, but how about all you students just get your education and leave, if you don't mind? Those of us born here are the ones you are blind to, the ones out tending the graves of our loved ones, long ago buried here, and participating in many of the cities' historic activities.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 10:32 p.m.

Seems like most of the comments are related to things that people don't like about this modern-day art fair, not a condemnation of the entire event. And besides, you can love Ann Arbor but dislike certain events that take place here, or certain decisions that are made - nothing wrong with folks stating an opinion. Who knows, maybe some of the opinions may even be helpful to those who organize.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:50 p.m.

A large part of the problem is the Art itself. Most of this fair is composed of artsy craftsy kitsch. Even the Art that is juried has declined in quality over the years. I think there should be a complete replacement of the people who jury this Art.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

There used to be more quality art but the expansion to the more kitsch is what I don't like - sorry some of this stuff i could make. Go back to what it originally was before it grew out of scope.

Laurie Barrett

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

Precisely. Originally, it was art, craft, artifact. Most of the things in the fair were singular items. Now it's just a Walmart of mass-produced kitsch. But since the business owners get traffic, the city keeps it going. It's kind of an insult to the original meaning and purpose of the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Junk.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

The poll does not reflect diminishing purchasing power of the dollar over a 54 year period. Art I bought in 1974 would cost 6X in today's dollars. (Hint: Genuine US $20 gold pieces cost about $70 each in 1974 and genuine US silver coins (pre 68) cost pennies above face value.) I've pretty much filled my living space with Art Fair works I bought from talented beginner artists during the 70s and 80s. I see similar works of no better quality priced much, much higher in recent years. I'm sure many Art Fair patrons can say the same. But this is a great article about our treasured Art Fair and its traditions and future. Thanks for that.

Linda Peck

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

I liked the art fair back in 1961 and for several years after. The early morning, around 6:30, was the best time to go. It is lively and fun these days, and also crowded and huge. No problem, though, I don't need to go if I don't feel up to it. I know others will enjoy it in my stead. I am happy that it is still happening, even though it gigantic.


Tue, Jul 23, 2013 : 4:30 p.m.

a lot of things that were fun in 1961 have changed and in fact many no longer exist and aren't coming back.some call it progress.i'm not so sure but on the other hand it would be tough giving up some of the modern conveniences we've become accustomed to.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:49 p.m.

As noted above, a number of factors have made it less appealing. First off, many areas , not just in Michigan, now do art fairs. So the out of town travelers (like from Ohio) do not necessarily need to come. Despite that, It can get very crowded and maybe they should ban pets (and double strollers why bring toddlers and infants to something like this). it had the appeal of some original higher end work but some off setting price points are needed for many to purchase. However, I think it has gotten too big, and there is just too much of similar stuff and some stuff that just seems like something you can find everywhere. As someone else said, some of this is getting just a bit too commercial.

Ann English

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:42 a.m.

While researching the South University Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair and the Summer Art Fair, seeing the art to be shown this week, I got the impression that many of the artists have art that DOES stand out. Unique wood used in art, wood that only grows overseas; a beautiful color and shiny. Outdoor photos of the Midwest in which you can practically hear the peaceful sounds of nature; most of the photos do NOT do that. You may be right about the art that features DRAWINGS done with oil PAINT, but there were plenty of surprises to see and read about the art online.

MD from ChiTown

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

Ageed. I have been living in Chicago for the last 12 years and have only made it back to the Art Fair once in 2004. The reason is that there is an Art Fair practically every weekend as well as countless music, food and ethnic festivals that can make for a pleasant summer afternoon. We found that the Art Fair has become too large and while some of the Art is phenomenal (but also available at the Old Town/Wells Street Art Fair), we found ourselves after 3 days saying "Another painting of flowers/landscape/raku pot/..." and we still had not seen everything. The largest fair here, the Old Town/Wells Street Art Fair, can be done in a day and you still have time to take in the Blues Fest at Grant Park that evening. The other thing we noticed is the reduction in performance areas. When I lived in Ann Arbor, hearing the musicians play was just as much a part of the Art Fair experience as seeing and buying Art (and yes I usually do buy when I go, albeit small items, although I have bought a couple of $500 paintings). I have a good friend who is a musician who used to perform there and she keeps telling me about the dearth of performance spaces so she no longer performs there.

Tom Joad

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

50% chance of thunderstorm each day of the art fair--that's what the future weather forecasts indicates


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

Hoo Boy, batten down the hatches, secure the stoneware coffee mugs!

Lizzy Alfs

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

Well, it wouldn't be art fair without a storm! :)


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

I love art. When the high quality works were more accessible for viewing, (even if too expensive for purchasing), I found the original fair very inspiring. For me, the smelly fast food is what started to take away from the experience. I remember people feeding elephant ears to toddlers in the 90 degree heat. Sticky strollers and streets, over-heated pets on leashes just seemed gross. The increase in commercially produced, low quality stuff, seemed to turn the fair into a circus. Though the fair is no longer an event that attracts people like myself, I am assuming that, overall, it brings business to Ann Arbor. For that, I am happy to avoid traffic and ride my bike to the original fair if the weather permits or skip the entire thing some years. I never did buy a lot of art and so they have to go with what pays the bills, I guess. Having been in the restaurant business, we worked and profited from the fair in the early days. Sadly, I don't believe that is the case for the Main Street establishments any longer. I would like to say that food such as at Mark's Carts are high quality street food and enhance the downtown and so it is possible to offer something other than sugar and grease. Because the city and the organizers choose, now, to run the carnival version of an art fair, I must assume that it is good, financially, for the city. I don't go to UM football either but I appreciate the fact that the activities contribute to local business. (Thanks for listening to my rambling about the old days.)


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

KM, very well said, I too remember the old days before the "art fair" got so ridiculously overpriced! But hey, every now and then i like a taste of Sugar and Grease.I just don't make a regular habit of it.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:11 p.m.

high prices,big crowds,heat,humidity don't need any of them.been probably 20 years since i was last at the Art Fair and don't miss it a bit.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 7:58 p.m.

Yep, I agree. Same overpriced c*** every year! Don't miss it either.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

So many comments about how commercial it is. So, then cancel everything except for the small juried art fair. Then the art fair would hardly be a news article. The $78 million dollar positive economic impact: gone! This is a commercial event and should be treated like one. It is the one major festival event the city has. It should be promoted and it should welcome the locals. I see nothing wrong with including non-art based activities that compliment the celebration of the art fairs. We should also do whatever we can to showcase what Ann Arbor has to offer for all of these out of town visitors. This includes our restaurants and our university. My perception is that attendance is down and I've noticed that we do not promote the event as much as we used to while events like Arts, Beats and Eats promotes heavily. Let's step it up and put this event back on the map.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

I think the point of others is that the over-commercialization is turning people off, and that instead of considering what to add, they should perhaps think if there is something that could be taken away to make it better. Continual growth is not always the answer, especially when that growth has seemed to come from booths that have little to do with art. How about better quality and selection?


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:11 p.m.

The negative impact of having 500K tourists occupying your city for four days - also gone!

Laurie Barrett

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:42 p.m.

Yep, like Ann Arbor itself, it's all commodified any more. They should just put up a webpage-- out all the jazz and doodads and mass-produced decorating thingamabobs, and just sell it all online. My point is that Ann Arbor's soul has long since been bought out. A2's no different than any other Midwestern small city any more . . . but once, it truly had a soul, and its art fair was a notable humanistic celebration.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:59 a.m.

Laurie, IMO, is right. Seva's announced departure is perhaps the sockdolager. (I'm in no way blaming Seva's owners; theirs was a business decision that I, frankly, would have made years ago had I been in their shoes. I commend them for sticking it out as long as they did). No more Borders, no more Shaman Drum, no more Afterwords, no more independent ice-cream shop in the space on Main St. once occupied by Lovin' Spoonful, Seva moving. Countless other independent, interesting businesses closed or moved from downtown. All being be replaced by chain establishments and overpriced restaurants. Frozen yogurt, anyone? How about Bar Louie? Please. I can do that in suburban Toledo, suburban Detroit, suburban Cleveland, suburban Columbus, suburban Flint (Flint!) -- you get the idea... Ann Arbor is rapidly losing its soul.

Ann English

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:26 a.m.

I would expect those that are interested in the artistic furniture to prefer seeing it up close; measurements for the furniture and other 3-dimensional art are not given online today. And as for the fiber and metallic art, I'm sure people would want to try on the garments and see how heavy the metal is. At least one artist at this year's Fairs uses metal in the garments she makes; she calls it "wearable art."


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

There are a few occasions every year when I pine to have a pit bull at the other end of my leash, and strolling anywhere through Art Fair is one of them.

E. Daniel Ayres

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:52 p.m.

Back in 1970, we actually did have a pit bull pup with us. He was suffering from the heat and had to be carried most of the time. Back then, he was a great conversation starter, people brought him water in cups (plastic water was not part of the scene yet), and we got sun burnt.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

"By now, we know the drill: During the third week in July, about 500,000 people will descend upon downtown Ann Arbor for a four-day, juried art festival that showcases work by more than 1,000 artists." This is more urban myth than reality. In the last few years, attendance has been way down, more like 250,000. Art Fair organizers wouldn't admit to those numbers, but independent reports as well as talking to artists about the lack of traffic, points to much lower attendance.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

Need to have an option for "NONE" on the poll. As far as the Art Fairs are concerned, we think they have become far too large, and far too expensive for the artists. After paying very high fees for a booth space, transportation, accommodations and food, several thousand dollars have been invested, so artists need to make a lot of money to just break even, not to mention clear a profit. Artists we talked to last year stated that the fees are way too high. Also, over the last few years, we are seeing more and more turnover, as artists are not returning. As far as the quality of the art, much of it is very commercial and production oriented, many items that are the same, which is what you would expect if the artist is paying a huge amount of money to be in the fair. The sense of originality is lost and in many cases, overpriced schlock is the name of the game. The expansion of the fairs has become too much. It's not a manageable "fair" any longer, and all the "ticky tacky" commercial stuff added in these add-on fairs (in parking lots along Liberty, etc), really degrades the whole experience. Our suggestion is to cut back on the overall size of the fair and lower the fees to encourage better artists who are doing more unique work, rather than those who are cranking out commercial items, to participate. We feel the overall quality of the artwork has declined in the last 10 years.

Ann English

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:19 a.m.

I never researched the artists or their art until this year, but yes, I did see quite a few online that will be in the Art Fairs for the first time. Some are coming from California and Washington State, others are coming from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

I love the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. The artists, the townies, the visitors, the sights, the sounds, and even the craziness of it all...

Chester Drawers

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

Falcon, I AM a dog lover, which is why I think it is dumb to take them to a place where they could easily be injured or suffer from the heat.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

No Chester. That is an ignorant comment about dog lovers unless they don't take precautions (dog footies, water, and frequent stops in the shade). Plus, the fair has set up dog stations. If these dogs bother you, just stay home and read the coverage about the fair in

Chester Drawers

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

I too enjoy the experience, with the exception of the really dumb people who bring their dogs along. C'mon people, leave Poochie at home! It's too hot and crowded and, besides, s/he can hardly see the art from down there!


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

It seems to me like one thing that would help maintain the "uniquness" of this fair is to actually use uniqueness in the distribution of booths. It's kind of disheartening to see 5 booths where the art, or at least the approach to art, is exactly the same. You keep seeing the wooden jewelry boxes over and over, the wooden kitchen utensils over and over, the silverware scultptures over and over. They're cool when you see them the first time, then you just start wondering what the count is of ACTUALLY unique art and vendors. Is this the same vendor just buying multiple booths to try and get as much visibility as possible? As for the prices, yeah, ridiculous. I have to wonder if the same artist charges much less when they go to other fairs around the country where the citizenry is less "educated" than in Ann Arbor. Or perhap where the booth prices are not so rapy. I tried waiting around near one booth for a while just to see what kind of person can pay $7000 for a piece of art, but never saw one. Maybe it's more about visibility and name recognition than actual sales for some of these people. I like art fair, but those two things (similarity of art across multiple locations and price) are kind of discouraging, and have been for the last 10 years.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

At least we can count on the rain :)


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

I normally never go. And if I do? It is a Saturday morning catching an AATA bus to and from home. Think I want to pay those darn prices for parking? Nope. As for its future? As long as Ann Arbor loves it prices? The show will go on until forever. Glad to know the rain is coming this week.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 9:56 p.m.

Well, if you look at the forecast? It is going to rain on your art fair. Glad of that. Then they can take that dang nabbit heat with em.

Chester Drawers

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 6:15 p.m.

Once again, jns, your mean-spiritedness puzzles me. Why are you glad it is going to rain on the artists and fairgoers? (It's not like we are suffering from a drought). If you don't like it stay home or leave town. I can never understand people who wish bad things on others.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

The Art Fair is a perfect reflection of Ann Arbor - Both have reached their saturation points. What was once a relaxed and unique experience Ann Arbor has been taken over by profiteers who see no end in sight with their opportunities for growth. Soon people will have to get the discount tour package to join the long lines at our "State Street Gateway" entrance before boarding the "Boomerang" express into Art Stick town. After waking the one-way tour down Liberty, along one lane Main, then back up DDA Street (formerly William), while taking a short rest to spend their meal ticket at one of 100s of restaurants along the route, visitors will be efficiently carried out so the next group in line can enter., A Victim of its own success.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.

Agree. Like the Top of the Park, what was once a casual, low cost summer evening has become a bloated, fundraising event. The Art Fairs used to be smaller, fun to walk around and chat with artists, with reasonable prices. Now it too is bloated, overly commercial and full of low quality commercial items.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

I'm not quite so cynical as LXIX, but he has a good point.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : noon

Want to improve the art fair experience for attendees and artists? 1. Stop cramming it full with commercial advertisers like every window supplier, supermarket, and cellular plan. They have nothing to do with the art fair experience that people attend for. 2. Stop placing similar artists adjacent to or directly across from one another. Dilutes the experience for artists and patrons alike. 3. The volunteers at info booths are great but much more signage would be helpful for navigating the spread-out array of fairs. BTW, curious choice of poll topic after this article.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 11:22 a.m.

Shouldn't the survey include "I've never bought anything"? Art Fair is hot, crowded, and has ridiculous prices.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 5:33 p.m.

How about only attending one and spending $0.00


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 11:12 a.m.

More blazing heat and storms. Move festival to the fall for crying out load.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

No reason why this fair could not be in late May or early June. Much cooler weather and UM is not in session.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

While UM is in session and there are 40,000 more people living downtown? Madness.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

Loud. Sorry, I am still learning how to spell.