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Posted on Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

Ann Arbor Art Fair a critical part of the community

By Staff

For the 53rd straight year, Ann Arbor hosted an outdoor art fair last week, and somehow the town is still standing.

The perennial complaints that the Ann Arbor Art Fair generates would almost be enough to make a listener wonder how that's possible: It's too crowded. It's too commercial. It's too hard to get around. It's not real art. It's too big. And so on.

Whoever first said that "it's not art and it's not fair," definitely hit a rich vein of sentiment that annually raises the blood pressure in many local residents, while spurring many others to leave town entirely.


To each his own. But now that the booths are gone for another year, it's worth reflecting on what the fair really means to Ann Arbor.

• It's an economic engine, of course. Yes, results are mixed; the nature of some businesses doesn't fit well with the art fair crowds, and they end up closing for four days. But while the overall impact is impossible to measure, an estimated half-million visitors to town, credit cards in hand, must be considered an overall economic win in the dog days of July.

• It builds the community's reputation. The fair draws lots of press coverage, some of it national. It helps keep Ann Arbor in people's minds as a place where interesting things happen. And it showcases the city to all those visitors, maybe suggesting return visits down the road.

• It's got lots of intrinsic value. If the fair is not your thing, that's fine, but you're missing out. There is a lot of amazing work on display every year, and some of it surely does qualify as fine art. Even if you consider much of the rest to be craftsmanship rather than "art," so what? There's a tremendous amount of admirable work to be seen. And beyond the art, the other attractions—free music stages showcasing talented local performers, the people watching, even the sidewalk sales—are all perfectly valid as well.

So, sure, the complaints are understandable. But this is a remarkable thing that happens in our midst every year. The artists, staff people, volunteers and others who pull together to make the Art Fair happen deserve our thanks and appreciation. And so does the event itself.



Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 11:13 p.m.

So, how did the Art Fair do this year?

Paul Flack

Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

I know Ann Arbor thinks its real clever. The show director bragged to me that the State Street Show alone nets $800K off of the festival. Much of that is from artists, between the parking and everything else. Ann Arbors' greed has killed the golden goose. The buyers are gone or buying imported clothes from the likes of Urban Outfitters. In less than five years this show will look like a flea market...the dogs bark and the caravan moves on...wish I could have seen it when it was good.


Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

I've been attending the AA fairs since 1976 (exhibited from 1978-2006) and run websites around the art fair business. A member of my site added this comment today about the State Street Area Art Fair: "Tuesday night an artists' dinner is held, we had the "privilege" of sitting with the Mayor and the show organizer. Tom, the show organizer, boosted that his was the only show that would allow stores to have street booths and that Urban Outfitters would do more than $250,000 during the four days of the show. That is $1/4 million that wasn't spent on art. That was only one vendor." Only in Ann Arbor do the merchants get the best spaces and make the most money. Nowhere else in the country do you see the flagrant commercialization of the event takes place at this art fair.


Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 3 p.m.

I guess nothing will ever change & the Art Fair most certainly needs too. I am struck at how the Art Fair does everything in it's power to dissuade Generation X & Generation Y from attending. Almost all of my business's core demographic (18-45 year olds) loathe the Art Fair and stay away in droves. There's NOTHING for them. Music? Most of the artists are fine, but the stage is tucked to the end of the food court, mostly filled with food I wouldn't feed my dog, let alone another human being. The stage should be moved to the middle of the Fair, like the Sonic Lunch location, not hidden away at one extreme end like a relative one is ashamed of. Does Mr. B have to play every darn Art Fair? I swear he's played every one for the last 30+ years. Tired, boring, predictable. That's the Art Fair. The same artists in the same locations. MIX IT UP. Don't allow people to participate who have their "art" mass produced, only real craftsman & artists, please. I wouldn't be surprised if the Art Fair let a Thomas Kinkade booth exist. Main st. was full of junk found in Anytown, USA. Why does the Art Fair have non-artistic, non-community CORPORATE representation at the fair? Does the Art Fair need corporate America's money that bad? In this age of near CONSTANT & EXHAUSTIVE advertising, do we need to be reminded of their products, power & unconcern for anything but money? Isn't their advertising shoved down my ears & eyeballs every time I read, listen or watch something? CHANGE the Art Fair for the better of the community & artists. Hopefully the restaurateur dominated merchant associations & DDA will come to understand that all that glitters is not gold.


Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

Question, is this headline sensationalistic? Critical, really? Reminds me of the old Johnny Carson joke, 4 died, 3 critically. No joke staff, stop the outrageous headlines. Your readership deserves better.

Honest Abe

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 7:09 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair is beyond over rated. I have seen better junk at garage sales for a 1/10th of the price. I own a business, smack in downtown, and our revenue FALLS whenever the Art Fair is here. Ann Arbor and businesses does not gain what people like to believe. Places that sell parking are the ones who usually profit the most, and those are cash sales, so no tax revenue is generated either.

Fat Bill

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I know several landlords in the area were especially tolerant with illegal parkers this year. I also know that the City only towed cars that were flagrantly violating parking laws; mostly blocked fire hydrants. I believe that shows a keen awareness of the importance of keeping the Art Fairs' visitors coming back.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

But while the overall impact is impossible to measure, an estimated half-million visitors. . . I think it is time to retire that estimate. Here's why: To have 500,000 visitors the city needs to show that it had 31,250 parking slots used during the Art Fair. 31,250*4*4 = 500,000. The two 4s in the equation are 4 days of the Art Fair and assuming that the cars have 4 passengers (fairly generous assumption). Of course, not all visitors are parking in AA parking spaces, which can be tracked. Likewise, some locals visit the fair and live within walking distance. But, ultimately i think the 500,000 is a huge over-estimate.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

This is a ridiculous assumption and an impractical way to estimate attendance. That's because a signficant amount (perhaps even a majority?) of the parking available for art fair is not in city-owned lots, garages, or street spaces. Moreover, people who work downtown and use these spaces on a daily basis STILL use them for work during Art Fair. The business I work for opened its lots for art fair parking this year, but only after 5 on W-Th-F and all day on Saturday. You have no way whatsoever of measuring what businesses or private individuals use their lots and yards for art fair parking, and you've also not even tried to account for people that park remotely (like at Briarwood Mall) and take the bus downtown.

say it plain

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

And gee, while I thought the crowds on Saturday (as opposed to on the other days given photo and video and anecdote evidence) looked decent at times, I saw open parking spots all over the place on the streets! If the garages were relatively full, which I guess we'll learn about in the coming days maybe, then there seemed to be a lot of surface parking left unused! I guess Americans don't like the idea of parking more than a block from where they're headed, but wow, even during art fair there is not much need to bother with the endless garages we have in the 'city center'.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

A CRITICAL part of the community? This is a joke, right? How about police, fire, city services? How about eliminating the idling and crossing ordinances? The art fund? The Mayors Cabal? Dealing with roads, the train station, etc, etc, etc. The art fair is critical? Unbelievable.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

I walked from one end of the fairs to the other several times over the course of the four days, and I saw plenty of good art, along with a quantity of junk. Seeing the good art --and watching the people--was more than adequate compensation for seeing the junk (which, after all, nobody made me spend any time on). Yes, the fairs complicate the process of getting around A2 for most of a week, and yes, they have gotten more commercial than they were 20 or so years ago, and yes, you can certainly find reasons to object to them if you like. But you can have fun going to them, if that's your intention. And I (like a few other posters I've seen) think that if those of us who don't have any interest in football can put up with six football Saturdays a year without getting too bent out of shape about it, surely the anti-fair crowd can curb their irritation for a week. Some of the across-the-board disdain for the fairs strikes me as a form of snobbery, anyway--does anybody else get the sense that it's become sort of a badge of A2 hipness to hate Art Fair? A healthy dose of discernment would be salubrious, it seems to me--there really were some fine pieces of art here and there, and part of the pleasure was coming upon them after snickering (gently, and out of the hearing of the artist) about the kitsch.

Will Warner

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

If memory serves, Art Fair was glommed on to something already in existence called "Bargain Days" during which downtown retailers put stock out on the sidewalk and marked down prices.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

Having been here for many of the last 31 art fairs, I agree that it isn't the same now as it was even 25 years ago. There used to be a lot more performers that came from all parts of the country to entertain the crowds and earn some money. However, when we had more businesses instead of restaurants and services, the local businesses that had their sidewalk sales did very well, and when the Ann Arbor News (a real newspaper back then) did stories about the AF, it was often quoted that those shops did very well at at time of the year when business was stagnant. I believe it was printed somewhere that the stores were the ones that initially were big boosters for the early art fair, because it did give them the opportunity to sell. In the end though, the AF is a good thing for Ann Arbor, and whether you loathe it or love it, it is a positive event that brings people to town that could care less about who the football coach is, or how the mayor's name is pronounced.

Will Warner

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

"To each their own. " Please. The phrase is "to each his own." "Their" does not go with "each." "His" goes with "each." "His" in a context like this means "his or her." You can look it up.


Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

Just say 'her' instead of him. Everyone is happy.

Joe Dohm

Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

I know, Shakespeare totally screwed up when he used it that way in Hamlet...

Fat Bill

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 4:09 p.m.

I knew English majors served some useful purpose...just kidding!


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Yes, that USED to be the way it is and how I was trained, too; but feminism has changed all that. "His" is no longer considered inclusive as it used to be. Sorry!


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

nice to have a positive article about A2 and the art fair!!!


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

As I recall that is like the 16th one this week.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

"and somehow the town is still standing." Thanks for trivializing any downside to the fair in the first sentence. It's what we've come to expect from "editorials" - the city hall/DDA party line and nothing more.

Silly Head

Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

I didn't attend the art fair last year, but normally go every year. The one thing I noticed this year was how uneven the roads were. I tripped and nearly stumbled quite a few times. Upon looking at the cause - I'd often see cracks, buckles or small chunks missing from the road. The difference is noticeable from pervious years. The road condition needs to be better in order to prevent injury and liability. All I could think of as I struggled to maintain being upright a few times, was thank God I didn't have an expensive piece of breakable art in my clutches.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

"Ann Arbor Art Fair a critical part of the community" I would take issue with that statement. I do not think it is "a critical part of the community". How many businesses would go under if we did not have the art fair? I have not been to the art fair in over twenty years. I do think the art fair is a good thing but not "a critical part of the community".

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Jul 23, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

I agree. " Critical part of the community" is an overblown exaggeration.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 12:04 p.m.

Ok....I HATE art I should from living in this city for 33 years.... fair is probably 50 times bigger than Hash Bash....yet the ART FAIR still doesn't leave the city looking like a garbage tornado blew through it. At least the Art Fair people seem to have respect for our town and do a good job cleaning up after themselves.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 11:44 a.m.

First art fair--a few paintings on a clothesline on South U in the doldrums of summer--has morphed into extravaganza. I love it but the heat in the hottest week of the year means misery for artists and shoppers. Idea: give everyone three years warning and change the fair to May when it is usually beautiful here, students are gone, and we would not have 90-100 degree heat. It will be getting hotter every year too, according to the world's climate scientists, so start making the change now.


Sun, Jul 22, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

The hottest weeks of the year are almost ALWAYS in August for us....statistically speaking. That doesn't mean I don't acknowledge that I can't remember an art fair that didn't have at least a couple dangerously hot I probably couldn't put more negatives in this sentence...