Ann Arbor’s Art Fair is back for the 2023 season from July 20-22. The juried art fair is arguably the biggest event in Ann Arbor every summer and according to the organizers, this year will be another fair at full capacity with artists from around the world bringing every single style, subject matter and medium of artistic work that you can think of to Ann Arbor’s streets.
“I love the energy. There’s lots of interesting people to meet and it is a fun place to interact with others and find customers,” Wendy Scarborough, an artist who will be sitting in a booth for the second time this year, said.
Scarborough’s booth will be on Maynard Street. Ceramics artist Hedy Yang will also be returning to the Art Fair, at Ingles Mall. This year she will be bringing ceramics covered in clouds and sunrises.
“I did a residency out in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. That’s where the sunrise and sunset theme was inspired,” Yang said. “I have really wonderful memories and moments there. I was taking a lot of photos of sunrises and sunsets. I started just painting them to be able to prolong or memorialize those moments. So each [piece] is specific to a moment or memory.”
Interestingly, organizers say that an alarming number of artists who had been fair regulars decided to retire when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down life for so long. It was hardly everyone, but it was a big chunk. But now, the fraction who have left have been replaced by a new batch of artists who are keeping the fair alive with new artistic perspectives.
“We’re completely full this year. We have a pretty healthy wait list,” Karen Delhey, executive director of the Guild of Artists and Artisans at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, said. “I don’t know if it is necessarily younger artists, or new artists, or artists who are just new to our fair. But we’ve been working a lot to do an emerging artists program, to get people to consider doing art fairs as a profession.”
This year 55 people applied to the program according to Delhey. A dozen were accepted and will now be at the fair with works for sale. Yang said she got her start as a college freshman through the program.
The Art Fair is in fact three fairs happening at once.
The State Street section received around 400 applications this year for 250 slots according to Carissa Petty, director of operations for the State Street section. About 80 of them are returning artists and the rest are new talents to the fair.
“We’re all under the umbrella of the Ann Arbor Art Fair. So we all stand as three fairs, one event,” Angela Kline, director of the Original Art Fair, said.
She said in her section of the fair, centered on the Diag, “we are going to have the Toledo Museum of Art come every day and do live glass blowing events from this enormous truck that they have dubbed the Baby Dragon!”
The Baby Dragon will be parked on Ingalls Mall. The Ann Arbor Potter’s Guild will also be nearby, as will live music.
The art fair is a major cultural boon for Ann Arbor. But it is also just as much an economic boost for what might otherwise be a laggy-time for the city’s business community when the bulk of students aren’t here.
“It may not always be make or break for the regional economy, but it’s certainly a large impact. It’s also a big impact in terms of the perception of our community. It’s one of the largest art fairs in the world and so the idea that it’s held here, and valued here in the community, has positive benefits beyond just dollars and cents,” Andy LeBarre, executive vice-president and director of Government Relations at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce, said.
The big economic winners of the art fair are the restaurants and hotels across southeastern Michigan. This is especially true for Washtenaw County hotels like the Graduate on Huron Street, managed by Jason Nelson.
Parking has always been a nightmare for the Art Fair, but the organizers have as usual arranged transit options throughout the city.
According to their website, a shuttle will run to transport people and accommodations are available for fair goers in need of mobility assistance.
The construction that has complicated life on Main Street and State Street since spring will be temporarily halted for the art fair.