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Posted on Sat, Jul 23, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

Saturday's weather - a balmy 85 - proves a relief for last day of Ann Arbor Art Fair

By Lisa Carolin


Lambertville resident Dana Shoched, left, and Heather Smith of Albany, Ga., compare mixed-media paintings by artist Linda Chamberlain to decide on which one to purchase Saturday at the South University Art Fair. The Ann Arbor Art Fair wraps up today.

Angela J. Cesere |

A strong finish to a slow start may have helped the numbers at this year's Ann Arbor Art Fair, which saw searing heat for much of the week and a smaller crowd on Thursday.

Morning rain followed by sun and milder temperatures in the 80s Saturday finally brought relief to the more than 1,100 artists and hundreds of thousands of visitors at the 52nd annual event, which wraps up at 6 p.m.

"Even though the weather has been a challenge, people haven't let it hold them back," said Debra "Max" Clayton, executive director of the Summer Art Fair, one of four fairs that make up the event. "The only thing that was different this year were the high heat hours Thursday afternoon, but Friday night there was a huge crowd. I would be hard pressed to say there were fewer people over all."

The fair typically attracts about 500,000 people over its run.

Clayton says that although food sales may have been down because people tend to eat less in hot weather, vendors sold a lot of water. She and the other directors agreed that people who braved the heat were serious shoppers.

"We have an amazing number of dedicated art buyers and serious art collectors," said Maureen Riley, executive director of the Street Art Fair, which was established in 1960 and is the original Art Fair. "A lot of people made up Friday night for a lost day Thursday."

Artist Jim Schulz, who specializes in pottery and ceramics, had a booth at the Street Art Fair this year. He blamed the heat and the economy for weaker sales than he remembers when he last had a booth from 1994-2003.

"My sales are down, but there are people making sales," said Schultz. He was referring to the booth next to his, run by 88-year-old potter J.T. Abernathy, a veteran artist of all 52 Street Art Fairs.

"I call him the 'godfather of clay in Ann Arbor,'" said Schultz. "Nine years ago, he would sell out in two days. This year he still has pieces left to sell."

At the South University Art Fair, bronze sculptor Matt Budish has been doing good business this year.

"I'm in my 11th year and it's been fabulous," he said. "Mornings have been the strongest part of the day. It's been quieter in the afternoon but has picked up at night."

"Every year some artists do extremely well, and some don't do well," said Maggie Ladd, director of the South University Art Fair. "Sometimes a certain medium doesn't sell well. There's no accounting for taste."

It's up to the individual artists to report back their sales, which makes it difficult to compare the number of sales from year to year. Attendance estimates will be compiled from parking lots and shuttle services over the next few weeks. Directors said they thought this year brought as many people as ever, except for a lighter day on Thursday, when temperatures climbed into the upper 90s.

"I gauge the crowd by how fast it takes me to get from one place to another," said Clayton, "and the only time it was noticeably different from years past was on Thursday afternoon."

The Art Fair is a huge boon for local businesses. A 2008 survey by Power Marketing found that hotels made $5 million and restaurants made more than $25 million that year during the fair. Meanwhile, this year's hot weather may have helped some businesses, as fair-goers took shelter in the air-conditioning.

"The heat brought people inside, which helped business for local merchants," Kathy Krick, director of the State Street Art Fair, said Saturday. "The crowds were back today. We've had years when Saturday is the make-up day, and I think we'll see a strong finish."

By late Saturday afternoon, the crowds were out in force.

It's incredible," said Clayton. "The streets have been packed all day and people are buying things."

She counted the day as a success overall.

"The Ann Arbor Art Fair is a one of a kind event thanks to the special synergy between the city, the fair-goers, and the artists," said Clayton. "Bottom line, the Art Fair was hugely successful this year."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional quotes from Debra "Max" Clayton.

Lisa Carolin is a freelance reporter for



Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 1:22 p.m.

Reading the artists accounts and the organizer accounts of the Ann Arbor Art Fair is as confusing as listening to the Republicans and Democrats trying to explain the economy. They appear to be from two completely different worlds. One artists review site, <a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> lists over one hundred artists comments, very few of which indicated a successful show. The general consensus was that traffic was down by at least 50 percent. That matched my experience of walking around the art fair. I have been attending the event since 1969 when my mother exhibited at the original art fair on University. Speaking with artist and business friends I heard estimates ranging from 40% to 60% less traffic, while not one person I spoke with indicated that this was anything like a typical year. Now we have the producers quoted as saying that attendance was virtually on par with previous years. I certainly understand the need to put a positive spin on things, but come on now. Why not just blame the real culprit- the weather explains the obvious drop in numbers. Not only would the reports have been more accurate, but they may lead to more artists and sponsor support by indicating a more favorable future. If the artists are convinced that this was a typical year, how likely are they to want to come back? I know and respect these show directors and believe that they want what is best for this city, and for the artists. These are fabulous people that work year round as advocates for Ann Arbor and for the arts. So why then do their reports differ so much from that of the artists? Perhaps because they need to compete with false attendance figures by other events. Ann Arbor, with an accurate 500,000 attendance appears small next to an event in Oakland county that gets under 100,000 but claims a million. The Ann Arbor Art Fairs are a fantastic local phenomenon, and are mostly profitable for artists and local businesses. That's something that most can agree with.


Wed, Jul 27, 2011 : 6:59 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair(s) in the opinion of the artists who've participated is quite dismal. Several things need to change in the operation of the AA art fairs: Fees to artists need to be lowered, the size of the fair and the quantity of artists needs to be reduced, the commercial vendors clogging the sidewalks need to be reduced, and the fair should run till Sunday. I'm afraid the growing dismal reputation of this fair will be it's undoing.


Sun, Jul 24, 2011 : 6:50 a.m.

I love Art Fair, but I think the numbers are way off. This is the weakest fair I've ever seen. All you had to do was talk to the artists. Many blamed the weather forecasters and the poor economy, but still some took to politics sighting the fear and lack of confidence coming from Washington. Whatever the case Thursday was surreal in down town. You would have sworn someone forgotten to tell you there had been a plague.


Sat, Jul 23, 2011 : 9:13 p.m.

Art Fair is so much fun, it's too bad that while we have fun we are destroying the planet with CO2 and other GREEN House gases.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, Jul 24, 2011 : 3:18 a.m.

It better be &quot;free trade&quot; kettle corn &amp; veggie gyro's after all it is Ann Arbor 6 square miles surrounded by reality

Jojo B

Sun, Jul 24, 2011 : 12:27 a.m.

We destroy the planet with CO2 gasses with just about every activity. Are you postulating that art fair is worse? Next year, we should ban kettle corn and gyro machines. :)


Sat, Jul 23, 2011 : 6:14 p.m.

Why hasn't AA News made a story about the tragedy in Norway yet? All other media on the planet is talking about it. That is real news compared to this art fair.


Sun, Jul 24, 2011 : 1:39 a.m.

Good Point, I forgot they are small but they think very Highly of themselves. Someday AA News you can write with the Big Boys. Keep up the important coverage of the art fair for now I guess.

Mark Evans

Sat, Jul 23, 2011 : 7:37 p.m.

Because their focus is local news, given the fact that there are literally thousands of other national and international news organizations covering national and international issues. Have you also noticed their lack of coverage of the debt ceiling debate and the Republican presidential candidates?