Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Back in the day the Ann Arbor Art Fair ruled the art fair business. It started with the Ann Arbor Street Fair over 50 years ago, then the hippies came in and camped on the Diag and The Guild of Artists and Artisans grew out of that and became the Summer Art Fair; then the State Street Merchants Assn. decided they'd join the fun (and grew every year grabbing more real estate); then some unlicensed events popped up on private property. Way out of control (my opinion). Then the merchants on South University decided they weren't making enough money so they tried to make a deal with the board of the Ann Arbor Street Fair for more $$$ leading to a split with the board which roughly 10 years ago created the South University Art Fair. Lots of artists -- lots of people, lots of money flowing. 

Then it got to be just too much and Michigan's economy hit hard by the tech bubble just never recovered. Well paying union jobs were going away and the autoworkers/auto suppliers/auto advertisers really suffered. Oh, and the City of Detroit declared bankruptcy. Tough times all around for artists and the groups that sponsored the 4 official fairs.

Blockbuster this week: 

The South University show is closing its doors and the Guild is taking over the management of the event that included the S. U. streets. 

Why I believe this is good news: it decreases the footprint of the event, it means there will be fewer exhibitors, commercial booths will be gone, for everyone who has been saying "it is just too big", getting smaller should be of economic benefit to all the stakeholders. 

Learn more of the details:

Maybe its time for you to reconsider skipping Ann Arbor? What do you think?

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Comment by Kathleen J. Clausen on March 15, 2021 at 4:26pm

Too funny!  I really missed out, having a regular job back then. However, I worked in mental health and have a bunch of funny memories of my own!

Thanks for sharing these stories!

Comment by Connie Mettler on March 12, 2021 at 10:57am

Thanks for the memories, Larry. I remember all of those events except the guys in tutus. I also remember the woman with the grocery store shopping cart filling it up, heading to her car to empty it and returning for more. The “shopping teams” of friends dressed alike,  the”naked run” that took place near woodworker Matthew Hatala’s booth annually, artist Don Nedobeck stepping away from his booth to play his clarinet at the corner of State and Liberty, artists putting up signs “will trade for legal work, dental work, etc.” And my favorite, photographer Bill Coleman sneaking a sign into his neighbor’s booth, undiscovered by her for some time in a very busy day, “will trade for sex.”

Comment by Larry Schneider on March 12, 2021 at 9:48am

I did Ann Arbor from 1994 to 2015.  It was not an an art festival , it was a “event”.  Early years had 150 Hari Krishnas chanting down the streets, student actors walking the streets doing little acts, Homo sexual weight lifters wearing tutus and feather hats parading in unison, small groups of three or four musicians walking the streets and stoping at places to play,  singing groups stopping at different locations for a song, boy and girl scouts selling bottled water from their wagon, and my favorite little 12 year olds playing the violin for money as their parents watched carefully from a distance.  I made a ton of money and was a small part of a real happening.  Sales slowly dropped over the last five years. Only three Krishnas walked down the street, the fun stuff slowly disappeared and the buying crowd changed. I quit doing the show but it still has fond memories. 

Comment by Mark Zirinsky on March 10, 2021 at 3:21pm

When I showed (at the original section), I did not see any junk amongst other nearby exhibiters. Later I happened by some other sections of the show, I saw tie dyed T shirts, coffee mug coasters, refrigerator magnets, and other what I would call lesser art forms; I do not wish to show my work in the same show. That said, the whole thing seems to be overwhelming for attendees; I saw people very stressed, trying to make sure they saw everything which of course is an impossible task. I would rather have fewer but more intelligent conversations with less people, so they feel they can give me more than 90 seconds of their time. Also, strangely, had a great opening day, best ever, then nothing for the rest of the show.

Comment by Mary Strope on March 10, 2021 at 2:35pm

People believed the show was too big even back when I was the director of The Guild (1991-1996).  After I left, it grew even larger with the addition of the King's Chosen parking lot section.  I agree with you, Connie.  I think this change will benefit the stakeholders, but mostly, it will benefit the artists.  A smaller show with fewer commercial vendors means more money flowing to the artists. The social distancing rules will also cut back on the number of artist booths available.  It will be tougher competition for artists who apply to the shows that jury in new artists (as opposed to the membership requirement of the Guild). But I believe this will improve the overall health of the show.

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