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Here's my report on Arts, Beats and Eats that took place for four days over Labor Day weekend in Royal Oak, MI, where I am the co-art director with Lisa Konikow. This event was presented for the 14th year last weekend. The first year I served as an advisor and on the board and the rest of the years have been part of the staff. This show has a huge budget and lots of everything: sponsors, performance stages, restaurants, beverage booths, carnival rides, an extensive children's area, 100's of volunteers, big name performers (this year Vince Gill and my favorite George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic), amazing PR -- let's put it this way: it is a BIG Deal in metro Detroit. It brings 100,000's of thousands to downtown Royal Oak for all of the above activities. It covers 8 city blocks. It is a festival, not an art fair.

Ralph Rankin, Lisa Ben-Zeev, Michael Bryant, Jim Parker, Patti & Bob Stern

I have made it my mission to make it work for my friends the artists. With my husband, Norm Darwish, we participated in the event for 10 years. The arts can get lost in all of the other activity, no doubt about that. A festival brings to the area people who may never attend an art fair, but they are there for the fun and the music and can become customers once exposed. Many artists go the following weekend to Art and Apples in nearby Rochester and customers follow them there to purchase art. I consider an event like this an audience building show. Many people get their first exposure to art fairs here.

Welcome back to Royal Oak, Don Ament

Here's the story:

Check in on Thursday was lots of fun as artists came in excited to be part of the festivities and encouraged by the reports of excellent sales in 2010. We had a whole day to set up and it was good to see old friends and meet the people whose names we've been entering in databases for six months and whose images we've been seeing. It was a beautiful day.

Friday: Near record breaking heat, a very small crowd coming through the show. Some artists made no sales and others made expenses and more. The jurors made their rounds for the $7500 of prize money. The jurors arrived: 2 women, 2 men and 3 ethnic groups represented. Their background, one is head of Cultural affairs for Oakland County, (Kristie Zamora) another head of the design team at GM, (Deadra Hall) another a studio potter who is Dean of Students at a local college (Henry Tanaka) and Albert Young, a veteran of art fairs who is a glass blower and heads up Michigan Hot Glass.Things started to go awry. Some artists were in a small parking lot and were getting very little traffic.

Because of last year's huge crowds we redid the layout of the show and added 20 artist spaces, bringing the total of artists in the show to 155, by all reckoning a "small" show. The whole art area had been flooded with people from the opening last year and we hoped for the same this year. The new layout put about 15 people in a small parking lot adjacent to the rest of the show. We added a new street that didn't flow well either. Since the crowds didn't materialize for two days because of the weather the people who were not so obviously in the traffic pattern really concerned us. This layout was done to spread things out so it wouldn't be as crowded as last year. We moved the main gate up into the show so people wouldn't have to stand in the traffic to get in as they did last year.

Laura Junge & Chris Jackson return to the show, third year

Friday and Saturday were very hard days for everyone because of the weather. Early Saturday morning the Budweiser truck making deliveries on the main street hit the overhanging awning of an artist and pushed that tent into the next and the next, causing damage to three booths. The head of Budweiser was there within hours to make good on the damage. Interestingly, the booth with the most damage belonged to Stan Baker, a potter. Last year photographer Larry Humphrey's awning got clipped by a truck that sent it crashing into Stan's booth. Who would imagine this would happen to him again? Best wishes with your next show Stan.Stan and Jim Reinert pick up the pieces

So the promise of last year was dashed the first two days. The layout that we thought would be full of people didn't work well for some. There was a lot of disappointment. Saturday evening Jon Witz, the producer of ABE, and I went to the troubled sections to see what we could salvage for the rest of the show. Oh, did I say there was a big fudge truck at a main intersection? I asked him to get it moved but because of the amperage it required it had to stay. Some of our plans did not work out, some adjustments were able to be made. Planning festivals is an art, not a science.

Saturday night before closing a storm shut down the University of Michigan football game, and Ann Arbor is a 45 minute drive away, and we knew we were in the storm's path. Artists buttoned up well, the winds, the rain and the hail came hard. There was little damage to artists booths, but trees went down all over the region and on artists' vans (Ginny Herzog and Michael Kifer are two I know about.) I was helping Kathleen Robinson-Young, who had a bad foot, off the site and got caught in a really bad wind with the fencing blowing down around me and took shelter beside a mini-van. In the meantime, our stalwart assistant Allie Maher was rescuing Mark and Julie Glocke as their EZ-up (attached to their good tent) started to fly dragging Julie across the parking lot and giving her a good knock on the head. The Glockes were the only ones who had to leave because their tent was so badly damaged. Allie and I continued to make the rounds in the pouring rain until we were sure the tents were all secure. Allie (daughter of artists Annette Morrin and Chris Maher) is a trooper and almost singlehandedly can upright a tent.

Perhaps some of you remember the bad storm at Columbus in June and the blog post Meredith Kuntzsch posted here. Meredith was injured at Columbus, but who did I see in the dark scurrying around fixing other people's booths and making sure all was well? Meredith, of course. 

Sunday morning dawned beautifully, just the kind of weather we had been hoping for and the audience showed up. We had our artists breakfast at a  nearby restaurant and awarded the prizes:

Best of Show: Alexis Silk, glass; 1st Place: Xiao Jiang, painting; 2nd Place: Dave Bruner, printmaking; 3rd Place: Greg Barnes, drawing; Awards of Excellence: Candiss Cole, fiber; Ivy Solomon, jewelry; Chris Coffey, photography; Paul Adams, painting; Mary Cody, jewelry; Richard Skelton, sculpture; Spirit of the City: Sidney Carter, painting; and Golden Dolly Award (best artist's helper): to Casey Herzog, granddaughter of Ginny Herzog. Casey has spent the last four summers traveling with Ginny as her helper, seeing the country, learning how to run a business and meeting and greeting Ginny's customers. She was thrilled to win the award, to get her grandmother reinvited for 2012 and to take home an award check.

Monday the people came in large numbers again and artists began to feel like they were going to take some money home with them. As usual, a few people had their best show ever, some made zero sales and a lot were in the middle. 

I heard complaints about the Royal Oak Police. Berry Davis and Colette Fortin were dismayed to find a police dog sniffing into their boxes behind their booth and I do believe the police were very vigilant during the show. This event is a huge undertaking, the President was coming to Detroit on Monday to march in the Labor Day Parade and security was at its peak. Our apologies to anyone who felt that they were being singled out for surveillance. Unusual boxes that looked like they did not belong with an artist's setup were investigated. 

Barry Bernstein took a little money home with him.

Many thanks to all who came to Royal Oak with moderate to high hopes. It was a pleasure to meet you and work with you. I love this business and the people involved. Your success is my success and your disappointments are mine also. I know the heartbreak of barely making ends meet and the fear of not being able to continue to in the career you have chosen. I hope you will believe that Lisa and I work to serve you and wish you the best in the year ahead.
Patti Stern charming her visitor

P.S. Friday morning we had a staff meeting in Royal Oak and have set on the path of rectifying all that is in our power to improve the event for artists in 2012. The changes are starting now. The layout will be revamped; no fudge trucks in sight; no sponsor booths; the main entrance will be laid out to insure equal access to all booths; there are plans to have the shuttle drop off at the art area; vulnerable areas will have increased security, i.e., there will be no vulnerable areas. Our producer, Jon Witz, is interested in your feedback: as are Lisa Konikow ( and myself-- and you know where to find me.

Important members of the community:

Michael Bryant and Christine Green

Martha Bennington

Paul Zerjay

Miyako Cauley & Allie Maher, our stalwart assistants

Connie Mettler, John Stillmunks & Nels Johnson

At 11:30 pm Friday night I caught Daniel and Barbara Lager hanging out at one of the stages and they gave a thumbs up to Detroit's fabulous Thornetta Davis, listen here.  On Monday I talked with Thornetta as she checked out the art on Washington. I know Richard McCollum and Marvin Bower scored VIP passes from me for Vince Gill on Saturday, and I believe Barry Bernstein was there also.

I always try to make one concert and the closing for the festival was George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic -- they rocked downtown Royal Oak. Great to see a few artists there, Alexis Silk and Harry Roa getting funky also. Who's George Clinton? Listen here.

You weren't there but would like to see what the press was saying about the show? We have a serious PR machine, lots of press, onsite coverage by WDIV-TV and all local TV stations, print stories in all the media:

What the event means to the local economy:

About the storm that came through:

Some of the other fun that was going on:

A shameless plug for shopping at art fairs:

Imagine the US Postal Service being involved in this way:

Jon Witz's take on the festival on Monday morning:

And again:

Views: 1628

Comment by Jim Parker on September 12, 2011 at 8:53am
Great post, Connie. Nice pictures, too. Aside from the hot hot Friday, it was a decent show for me. Fun, too.

One thing that people continue to mention (patrons who came to my booth at AB&E and even at Art & Apples) as a negative: security and gate personnel were confiscating water bottles as people came into the show. No one was allowed to bring their own beverage into the show. They could drink it on the spot, dump it out, or hand it over to the gate personnel. A friend of mine had customers describe this experience in detail at Art and Apples this past weekend. The patron said they would never go back to AB&E.

I wonder how many other people were disappointed by this less than cordial greeting at the gate.
Comment by Donna Beaubien on September 12, 2011 at 10:55am

I also heard of the less than friendly greetings at the gate. I was on Washington St. and a elderly couple came and stood under my back awning. They had driven all the way from Port Huron, and their water was taken at the gate. I said couldn't you just hide it in your purse and she said no, her purse was searched. I offered them both a chair and gave each one a bottle of cold water. They too said they would never return.

I would also like to make a more favorable comment. I have lived my entire life in the Detroit metro area. I hear things. I have participated in ABE for 13 years.

Last year, it was so crowded, the police closed the show a couple of times on Saturday, to allow some patrons to get out before they let new ones come in. At times it was so crowded,  patrons could hardly move. What I heard after the fact was, these huge numbers of the buying public would not return. To crowded, they said. This year ABE was hurt by their own success.

Please, you first time participants. Give the show co-ordinators at chance to fix the problems. The word will get out that it was much less crowded and the art was even better.

I plan to be there next year, and I hope you will also. Please remember, even with all negative things people say about Michigan, Oakland County where RO is located, is still one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on September 12, 2011 at 1:18pm

I had a good two last days and I still had fun at the show.  If I make a comment, it is more like a suggestion because I want the show to get better and better, that includes artists and patrons.


They did the same thing last year in terms of taking away the water.  There has to be some commons sense, though.  If the weather is 90 degrees plus, people are going to bring their own water.  Besides, it's only 15 cents a bottle at Krogers and 12 cents at Costco.  I walked in with my own coffee and I just glared at the gate keeper when he tried to say something.  If you ignored them, what were they going to do? Have you arrested for bringing in water?


That brings me to the issue of the gate guards.  I found them to be ill trained and pretty dumb as far as making decisions.  Maybe you should send them to Disney World for training.  They couldn't answer any questions about where to go in Royal Oak to navigate the area.  They only seemed to know how to search you and take your ticket.  Anything beyond that was above their level of expertise.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on September 12, 2011 at 1:25pm
Whether people come back or not is there decision.  People complained about the high price of parking and the food booths.  However, if you take advantage of the music, the event is great value because if you were to go to a concert featuring any of the headliners, it would cost $40 up to $125 to see them and there were some really great acts on the secondary stages.  Most of them do not aspire to be pop icons and are great singers and musicians who like to play in smaller intimate settings.
Comment by Nels Johnson on September 13, 2011 at 6:42am

Munks, don't forget it was high nineties for temps the first two days.  It makes sense to have some water to stay hydrated.  Think about it.

Connie, you guys are addressing a number of issues.  Ywo that I don't hear anything about though (But it is probably out of your control)

One, being the loud raucous rock only music everywhere.  They need more diversity in the music.

Two, The carnival vendors with their silly flashing red lights.  The sales of cheap repros, the sales of cheap balloons.  Betcha nothing gets done about any of that.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on September 13, 2011 at 6:49pm

I purchased that coffee at Starbucks on Main Street. However, they do have a number of coffee places in the cafe's inside the gates, but, none of them roast their own coffee.


The bomb sniffing dogs came through the show before it opened and I thought they were pretty discreet.  They probably were in a bad mood because they didn't want to be there.  On the other hand, they are a little uptight in Royal Oak.  It was one of the first places where the government hassled the care givers and the patients with medical marijuana cards.  They don't want no stinkin' weed in their neighborhood.

Comment by Connie Mettler on September 13, 2011 at 8:16pm
Artists could bring in their own food and drink as they were inside the festival grounds before the gates went up. There was also abundant food available at the restaurant booths and the nearby restaurants, just about anything you could want.
Comment by Connie Mettler on September 13, 2011 at 8:19pm

I know folks were pretty freaked about the dogs sniffing around. But please remember the President was in town and everyone freaks who is in security when this happens. No stone or artist box will go unturned. A few years back Elizabeth Edwards came to the show when John was running for VP. The Secret Service was all over the show in the days before the event, everywhere and it was quite involved. They take this stuff seriously.

Me, I'd know that Berry Davis wouldn't have anything incendiary in his boxes.

Comment by Jim Parker on September 14, 2011 at 10:07am

There's a good one in Royal Oak -- The Inn Season. It's on 4th... not too far from the show.


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