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Posted on Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 5:34 a.m.

At the halfway point: Heat keeps the crowds down, but the diehards keep on buying

By Jennifer Eberbach


Ann Arbor Art Fair goers work their way down Main Street on Thursday.

Melanie Maxwell |

Thursday’s crowd at the 4-day-long Ann Arbor Art Fair was not as large as it usually is. There is no question that the extreme heat kept some people away. Instead of being shoulder-to-shoulder, visitors who braved the hot weather had more space to walk around.

Fewer people meant fewer sales for some of the artists. However, many found that the heat didn't deter the diehard Art Fair shoppers, who were on a mission to buy.

“We are in the middle of a heat wave, but we’re getting really positive responses from the audience and the artists,” said Maggie Ladd, the director of Ann Arbor's South University Art Fair, one of the four concurrent fairs that make up the event. In her experience over the years, “the people who come to the fair in extreme weather, whether it’s the heat or it’s raining, these are the serious buyers. So in a way it’s good for the artists. We’ve gotten reports from a number of them that they made good sales. It’s not about the quantity of patrons; it’s about the quality of patrons.”

Kathy Krick, the director of the State Street Area Art Fair, agreed that the heat might have actually helped some artists. “The ones who are out today are really looking to buy. They’re not just here to enjoy themselves. They have a mission to buy,” she said.

“The Art Fair is part of Ann Arbor’s mythology,” said Debra “Max” Clayton, who directs The Guild's Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. “It’s going to go on no matter what. They know it’s a once-a-year event, so they are going to be here.” Clayton wasn’t worried about Thursday’s thinner crowd: “Thursday is always the lowest attendance day. It’s just a quirk of the event.”

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Krick added that “it’s too soon to tell” if fewer people overall will attend this year’s fair. “The artists tell me Wednesday was great, and today they don’t expect to do well, but they’ve heard from people who are coming back on Friday or Saturday,” she said.

Lois Bosworth, a fabric artist from North Olmsted, Ohio who has exhibited at The Guild’s Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair for 18 years, said Thursday, “sales are fine, not as fine as we’d like. The crowds were much bigger and better yesterday.” Most of her business, on Main between Liberty and William, has been in the morning when it’s cooler. She thinks “the people coming this year are the dedicated buyers. And they don’t seem as lethargic as I’ve seen them some other years, when they look absolutely withered out there.”

Don Bodenberg and Lynn Marcus of Da Vinci Silver, who hail from Cincinnati, Ohio, are selling jewelry at the Summer Art Fair on Main between Liberty and William. They have exhibited here about a dozen times, and “normally it’s one of our best shows of the year,” Bodenberg says. However, he reports that “this year, it’s off because of the heat. We are getting significantly less people. The weather people on the news told people to stay home, and many did.” He estimated sales in the first two days of the fair were down about 20 percent, “but we’ll still make a profit.”

Hot or not, artist Jerry Berta, who has been exhibiting at Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair with his wife, ceramicist Madeline Kaczmarczyk, since 1974, had a stellar first half of the fair. “Even in the heat today, I sold one of my biggest pieces in five years,” Berta said. “The crowd is way down, but sales for me are actually up. It’s not like the old days before the recession, but our sales are up this year. We’ve already made what we hope to make for the whole show,” in the first two days, he said.

Kaczmarczyk thinks the heat might actually be helping with sales. “People who collect my work aren’t avoiding making a decision. Either they are going to buy it or not, and they aren’t going to go off to see the whole show and then come back. So, people are making those decisions right off the bat, rather than wandering off and never coming back to buy. So, in some respects, the heat has been good to us!” she said with a laugh. Midway through day two of the fair, “I’m definitely ahead of where I was last year.”

072111_NEWS_Art Fair_MRM_banner 03.jpg

Artist Karen Steininger of Iowa kicks back in the shade with a newspaper as she mans her ceramics booth during the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair on Thursday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell |

Art Fair shoppers Steve and Donna Dunyak from Kalamazoo didn’t get deterred by the hot weather, “because we’re insane,” Donna joked. Regardless of the heat, the couple was determined to “see the whole thing,” Steve said. He saw Thursday’s smaller crowd as a plus: “One advantage is that you don’t have to move through a herd of people.”

Nancy and Pedro Mondejar weren’t sure they would be able to make it around to see everything in the hot weather. The couple, who drove in from Charlotte, Mich., found that “the crowds are down today, but we think tomorrow and Saturday maybe there’ll be a lot,” said Pedro, who is an artist himself. How far they would get wandering the fair “depends on when we get too tired from the heat. We don’t really know where we are heading. We just keep going until we are too tired and hot.”

Indeed, the heat led to some health problems throughout the county, including at the Art Fair.

Art Fair directors and artists agreed that “the fat lady hasn’t sung yet” on whether the heat will impact overall sales and attendance at the fair. There are two days left to attend, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Temperatures are expected to be somewhat more moderate.



Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 5:58 p.m.

I just walked around the Art Fair and I was awestruck by the Elvis-On-Black-Velvet masterpieces, the oven mittens-in-the-shape-of-kittens, the hundreds (thousands?) of booths the DDA is charging $1,500 a three-and-half-day pop for, the snarling loyal Ann Arborites driven crazy trying to get to work on time. It reminded me a lot of a county fair, without the cow droppings. What really is needed, though, what would encapsulate the true meaning of Art Fair, is a dunk tank with a annoying, braying clown. Maybe next year?


Sat, Jul 23, 2011 : 1:29 a.m.

I agree with julie. The quality is lower than previous years, for sure. More ticky tacky stuff, junky stuff and lower quality all around. Artists may be going elsewhere to other fairs around the country with better sales and better attendance and lower fees.


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

Even the juried section of the Art Fair has gone downhill these past few years. Unbelievable what some people consider to be art. To me, it is not worth the sweat and the parking headaches.


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

I'm wondering how much they're charging for bottled water this year...100 bucks?

Tailgate Jim

Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

How about the Art Fair gets moved to May...that way we will be ensured of a nice and warm spring in Ann Arbor.


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 3:55 p.m.

It's 11:53 AM: right now there's a large area of storms moving due East from Lake Michigan, headed for Ann Arbor. Looks like about an hour's worth of rain will be arriving this afternoon. The good news: it's 85º with a Heat Index of 87º. Much better than yesterday.


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 1:12 p.m.

When I walked around Wednesday afternoon and evening in the greatly reduced crowds, many many booths were totally devoid of people with artists huddling in the shade or sitting in front of a fan. I have to believe that overall, this fair will fall short for many artists, unfortunately. It's a brutal week and even though some die-hards will purchase items, many will likely go home on Saturday with far lower sales than expected. The heat is always an issue in mid-July, but this year has record-breaking temps and heat indices. Bad luck for everyone.