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Posted on Sat, Jul 21, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Great weather, big crowds combine for superb ending to 53rd Ann Arbor Art Fair

By Lisa Carolin


Windsor, Ontario resident Dave Banwell looks over Illinois resident Cheryl Ward's handpainted cattail reeds Saturday afternoon at the South University Art Fair, part of the Ann Arbor Art Fair. The four-day event wound down Saturday with ideal weather and large crowds.

Jeffrey Smith |

The 53rd Ann Arbor Art Fair finished with big crowds and what appeared to be numerous sales. There's no underestimating the importance that the weather plays in attendance and sales, and after what some are calling a slow start, these last two days have offered great weather and big crowds.

"The crowds were just a little smaller at the start of the Art Fair because of the rain, although people who did come out were serious," said Maggie Ladd, director of the South University Art Fair, as the event wound down on Saturday. "Yesterday and today have been gangbusters. We had collectors in the area including one who bought 20 pieces from one artist and gave a dozen commissions to another artist."

"I couldn't be happier," said Maureen Riley, director of the Street Art Fair, the original of the four fairs that together make up the overall event. "The weather has been beautiful, lots of people have come out, lots of sales are being made, and our artists are happy. I think beyond a doubt there are more people this year than last year."

Many vendors were also benefiting from the good weather and crowds.

"The Art Fair has gone well this year because the weather was so nice and more people came out," said Elaine Unzicker, owner of Unzicker Design, which sells scarves, vests and one-of-a-kind dresses. "This is our third year, and more people are buying this year instead of just looking."

Mary Ennes Davis said her booth, Guardians, was busy every day.

"We sell jewelry, sculpture and collages and are having a very good show," she said.

It was a good year but not a great year for glass artist Mark Sudduth.

"A lot of artists have had a slower show, including me," said Sudduth, a glass artist whose work is all hand blown and hand formed. "I have repeat customers coming in and buying, but big pieces are not selling well in Ann Arbor compared to other locations. Since the economy slowed, people are cautious."

State Street Area Art Fair director Kathy Krick agreed.

"Higher-end pieces still haven't come back," she said, "but a lot of people came this year and everyone seems to be walking around with packages. The weather has been phenomenal, and that gives people a chance to walk and stop and buy, and merchants have had a good year because people can sit outside."

The Castle family from Dexter came to the Art Fair to enjoy the ambience and because it's free to walk around and enjoy the art and entertainment.

"It's like going to a really big art museum," said Julie Castle. "I really like to look at the art for decorating ideas."

Her 9-year-old daughter, Angela, said she had a good time, "but I didn't expect to see naked people pictures!"

"Being at the Art Fair was a really positive experience because the weather was nice, parking wasn't bad, and it's been a lot of fun," said Heidi Benson of Ann Arbor. "The artists are very friendly."

The Ann Arbor Art Fair averages an estimated 500,000 attendance in a typical year, and Summer Art Fair Director Debra "Max" Clayton said the streets were wall-to-wall people Friday and Saturday.

"People have embraced the weather and the opportunity to come to Ann Arbor," said Clayton. "There is a happy vibe on the street, and people are coming and staying for hours carrying packages of artwork and from retailers, and restaurants have been jammed at lunch time."

"The Ann Arbor Art Fair is a perfect marriage of an event and a location. That's what sets this fair apart and has made it a success for 53 years."



Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

I also agree that the fairs have become to large and to repeated. How many booths do you need that sell those poster/pictures of "Pubs of ....." The large number of jewelry booths throughout can only lead to less sales for all of them. The committee needs to review and revamp. We did go to dinner both Thursday night and Friday night at restaurants on Main and Liberty, respectively. At both we had spoke with managers that said they had experienced lighter business during the fair. I also thought the non-profits were less in number, however, some people may find that appealing. I also would really like to see the fair moved to Thursday through Sunday to take full advantage of a Saturday evening as well as a Sunday afternoon/brunch. Let's hope the committee will visit the thought of changing with the times instead of tradition, tradition, tradition!!


Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 2:24 a.m.

Who cares, from your neighbor in Ypsilanti.


Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

The Shadow Art Fair was great!


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.

Yes, I agree with @EJBA2. The crowds were lighter overall than previous years. I went on Wed, Thu and Fri evenings and there was not a time that it was a "sea" of wall to wall people as in past years. I'm glad a handful of the 1,000+ artists had good sales, but that does not provide a good analysis of the other 999. Many artists that I talked with did not have a good 4 days and they said the fair was too big and there were too many commercial vendors. High fees were also mentioned as a problem with this fair. I think it has become far too large, and far too commercial. It is also attracting a crowd of people who are not there to enjoy the atmosphere or buy art, punk-types that are walking around in large groups, looking for opportunities to rip people off, IMO. This is the first year I have seen these wannabe gangbangers at the Art Fair. Not a good family atmosphere. IMO, the S Univ area was the worst section, with the State Street area a close second in terms of over-commercialization. The coordinators of these fairs will continue their cheerleading, and cite a few anecdotal examples of a handful of artists that had some good sales. But none of these coordinators will actually survey all the artists after the fair, find out the reality of their sales, ask them about the booth fees, and then share the results with the public. The Art Fairs will continue to deteriorate and decline unless problems are honestly recognized and addressed. AS long as greed (get as many of those high booth fees as possible) rules the event, it's best days are in the past. Make it a smaller fair over a few weekends earlier in the summer to avoid the high heat and storms. Just my opinion.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

Agree with much of what you write, JRW. However, any earlier in the summer wouldn't work, with the A2 Summer festival going through June into early July. To avoid conflicts, this is really the earliest it could happen, seems to me. Drawn by the fabulous weather, I visited the fair on Saturday and got as far as the S. Univ. fair area. I spoke to a good number of artists, vendors and local restaurant and shop owners about their experience. The consensus was that foot traffic and sales were considerably lower overall. Many bored, long faces of artists in their booths underscored this. I'm the kind of fair attendee whose budget permits buying a few pair of unusual earrings as gifts, if the price is right. Nevertheless I love to marvel at art work that's well done, peruse and appreciate unusual creativity, talk to the artists about their work, and see life in a new way as artists help us do. But single-handedly I couldn't solve their cost/benefit problem. Stopping afterward for a bowl of delicious ramen soup at a place located right in the heart of the action, the owner told me he's never remembered business being so dismal during any art fair since he's been here - and that's a long time.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

I agree. I was there Friday morning and Saturday late afternoon and while there were people, it definitely seemed less crowded than prior years, despite beautiful weather.

say it plain

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

I guess I'm waiting for the reporting from the guy featured in the Observer report of this month--who actually surveys the artists in a systematic way about their experiences. Asking the people who run the fairs and collect the booth fees might not give the most accurate impression. I went on Saturday, crowds were at times decent, at times surprisingly light, and surely I saw even lunchtime being way less than 'jammed' at the local eateries (at least in the State Street/Liberty corridor). Some retailers seemed to be doing okay, some not so much, but the artists looked mostly bored and silent and none too busy. Doubtless in an economy like this one, people will buy when clothes and such are on big sale rather than not. But the atmosphere for art, and even merely 'craft' buying, seemed far far less exciting to me than in years past (didn't go last year, but even compared to some years post-recession it seemed rather meh). I can see how artists would want more weekend days. In an economy like this one, people will be more likely to spend if its part of their 'entertainment' budget, a weekend indulgence. They're not so likely to take off a weekday or two as they used to be, I'm guessing! Ann Arbor needs to adapt to the times, and stop believing as they so often do: that they are worth whatever rent they choose! The captive audience college kids aren't even here in summertime to bolster the bottom line for 'landlord' classes, c'mon, townies! These artists have trailers and can move around least *try* to make this more exciting than seeing the violin monster dressed in neon spandex for people.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

Hmm... Superb really? With whom did this report speak? Many of the artists complained that this fair has gotten too big because there isn't the population base to support it here. The economy is still poor in Michigan and that affects sales. Artists said the prices to exhibit are too high and they would like to see the fair moved to Thursday to Sunday to boost traffic and sales. I have to wonder if the coordinators of each of these fairs take into account the feedback they get from the artist. The fair is an awesome tradition that should be protected!


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

I walked through art fair on three days. Numbers seemed way down. I spoke with a number of artists in a variety of media from jewelry to painting to mixed media, and they each said sales were way down, that Ann Arbor is now not in top ten of art fairs in nation where they show. They attributed it to poor economy here.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

I thought the crowds were moderate, not large, on Friday afternoon. But around 5 or 6pm, the crowds exploded. It was hard to even walk on the streets around dinner time. I think the poor weather of the first two days created pent up demand. I wasn't there on Saturday but expect it was more of the same. We enjoyed the Fair this year more than any previous year. And we purchased a number of items.

David Cahill

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

I was impressed with the crowds on Friday morning.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

Very happy that the weather was awesome for the many artists who attended the art show and for the many folks who visited. Hope all did very well.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 12:01 p.m.

"Wall to wall people"? What Art Fair was Clayton attending? I was down there yesterday afternoon, and the attendance looked wayyyy down to me.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 6:26 p.m.

It's all about spin when these "directors" are interviewed. Not reality.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 6:40 a.m.

Art Fair is a crock! Good riddance.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 7:11 p.m.

You found a crock at the art fair for only $200 dollars?! Must have been about the size of a shot glass. I was thinking of one big enough to hold all the BS about art fair promulgated each year. Now that's a crock - probably cost millions!

Madeleine Borthwick

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

CynicA2, I saw a nice crock for about $200....i'm with you though. good riddance.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 4:06 a.m.

Seeya Art Fair 2012 ! Don't the door hit ya where the good lord split ya!

Bob Krzewinski

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.

Helping staff a non-profit area booth today, I was really taken back by the number of uncaring people who insisted on bringing their dogs to the Art Fair. Most dogs were panting and looking very thirsty. I saw one limping (the pavement is very hot to those tiny paws) in the upper 80s temperatures. Lots of really small dogs too, who could probably be stepped on by the crowds too. I really can't understand why people would want to abuse their animals by bringing them to the Art Fair. Maybe part of it is for the human to look cool or trendy (i.e. "I'm a bad dude, look at my pit bull). Please people, at summer big-crowd events, leave your dog at home. The animal will be much happier.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

Bob I could NOT AGREE with u more! I was getting quite upset seeing all these dogs and small infants being there with the heat and crowds! Just don't understand WHY folks feel they have to drag these poor animals around that heat and crowds. I saw a poor dog tied up to a chair while the owners were eating at a restaurant!!!!


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:06 a.m.

I'm definitely inspired to create stuff around the house. I'm too ham-handed to create fine art.