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Posted on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:51 a.m.

Ann Arbor Art Fair reports: good to mixed at midpoint

By Jenn McKee

Find a roundup of all Ann Arbor Art Fair coverage here.


Crowds walk down Liberty Street during the Ann Arbor Art Fair on Thursday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell |

How’s the Ann Arbor Art Fair going this year, in terms of attendance and sales?

Depends on who you ask.

“You know, increasingly, we get people that walk the fair for the first day before they buy,” said Maggie Ladd, director of the South University Art Fair, one of the four individual fairs that together make up the event. “So I would hesitate to give an answer, because it’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings. I had an artist make a $10,000 sale last year at a quarter to 6 (on the last day), after the buyer had been looking for a few days.”

To further underline the idea that it’s too early to assess how this year’s fair is going, Ladd said that a former local, who now lives in Milwaukee, traveled back to Michigan for the event.

“He walked the entire fair yesterday, figuring out where the booths he wanted to visit are, and he’s out to buy today (Thursday). … So I think the question is a bit premature.”

Raymond Papka—a Versailles, Kentucky-based mixed media artist who just won an Street Art Fair award for excellence—noted that foot traffic at Ingalls Mall wasn’t up to the level he was expecting, but he nonetheless benefitted from the “serious art buyer” crowd that tends to arrive on the morning of the first day.

“The first two and a half hours yesterday (Wednesday), I sold like mad,” said Papka. “It’s dropped off since then. No sales yet today. But I’m getting some come-backs.”

On North University, State Street Area Art Fair glass sculpture artist Michael George, from Scottsdale, Arizona, said of the crowds, “It’s my first time here, so I have nothing to gauge (expectations) on. But it’s a steady flow. I had some sales the first day (after 5 p.m.), so it’s good.”

Summer Art Fair wood artist George Efta, who primarily makes children’s puzzles (and whose booth is on Main Street), said, “It’s been pretty good because the weather’s been a little cooler. Last year was beastly hot. So we’re doing great in terms of crowds.”

Art Fair days’ weather thus far has varied, with a brief rainshower Wednesday morning, followed by a sunny, warm-to-hot afternoon; a more sustained rain on Thursday morning; and an overcast Thursday afternoon and evening.

“I was delighted with the weather (on Wednesday), and so were the artists,” said Ladd. “It was such a relief from the setup day before, which was grueling.”

The most optimistic mid-Fair report came from State Street Area Art Fair director Kathy Krick.

“(SSAAF artists) seem to have had a wonderful Wednesday,” Krick said. “Early on, Wednesday went like gangbusters for many of them. Then the day wound down, and people were looking more than buying. … But right now (mid-afternoon Thursday), I’m standing at the end of Maynard, and I’ve never seen this many people out on a Thursday—which I take as a good sign.”

Krick noted that as she walked around her fair, handing out awards on Thursday, each winning booth had browsers and some buyers, despite the fact that Thursday is traditionally a slow day.

“I’m very optimistic,” Krick said. “It’s just Thursday, and we’re already doing pretty good, and the weekend brings out more buyers, … since everyone’s off work then, and they have the time.”

Booth location and weather play a key role in all this, obviously. But it’s also a matter of what you sell, and who you sell it to.

“My sales are pretty good, because I have a lot of repeat business,” said Efta. “I have a new crop of 2-year-olds out there every year, so I never sell out my market here.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Sat, Jul 21, 2012 : 12:18 a.m.

One additional observation, artists should be aware that sitting in their booth using their iphone, does not create an inviting situation for someone walking past their booth. I saw many many artists looking bored in empty booths and talking on iphones, ignoring the crowds. This is not the way to encourage people to look at your work. Maybe they are discouraged, but professionals maintain a positive attitude regardless of how many sales have been made and attempt to engage the crowds. IMO.


Sat, Jul 21, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

I really generally prefer when the artist is preoccupied by a book or the phone. Visiting dozens and dozens of booths, I'd rather just focus on the art than have a brief conversation with every artist and proceed to have them watch me as I observe their art, thinking I'm now supposed to be asking them something about their materials or technique etc. Of course there are the occasional exceptions... To each their own.


Sat, Jul 21, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

Just to piggyback on "MyOpinion": yes, a more quantitative approach would be helpful in assessing the Art Fair sales and attendance. I have gone to the Fair three nights (Wed, Thu, Fri) and the crowds were smaller each night compared with past years. Weather has been pretty good overall. No 100 degree days and no huge storms so far to affect attendance. Artists I spoke with indicated mixed sales, some had few sales at all, others had some sales. One aspect that needs to be discussed re: the overall success of the Art Fair, is the high cost of booth fees for four days, in addition to other costs many artists incur: transportation, lodging, parking fees, meals, etc. An artist can only realize a profit when sales exceed these costs. Some artists might be happy to break even, but the high costs of participating in the Ann Arbor Art Fair is part of the equation, which probably explains the high number of commercial vendors. Now that the original juried fair has moved, the S. Univ area, in my view, is extremely commercial and tacky. Plus, it's a jumble of birdhouses, gutters and crafts, with no rhyme or reason. If there was an area to eliminate in the future, this would be it. I do have to add that the food options are much smaller than previous years. The area by the MI Union is half what it was last year. The food prices continue to rise, and the quality declines, at least based on food I purchased. I also wonder about the sanitation of these food vendors who are handling both raw and cooked food and then the same person is handling money with bare hands and no place to wash their hands in the booth. Where are the health inspectors?


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

I hope you'll story that uses metrics other than the random interviews with artists. I'd like to have a sense of the crowds (not eyeball numbers) but something based on parking revenue or sales tax numbers for selected stores for 2011 vs 2012. We ought to have those numbers for earlier years as well. One metric I'm observing is parking spots available in a nearby city structure. Today looks better than Wed or Thu.