The question was not easy because there isn’t just one answer.
So when Maureen Riley was asked what makes the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair so unique and special each year, the Original Fair’s executive director had to pause for a moment. After all, the AA Street Art Fair has been a city summer highlight since its inaugural year in 1960.
The simple answer is “it’s always about the art,” she said. And while it does all come back to that – it is an art fair after all – Ann Arbor has created a special place for both the artists and visitors.
“It started at the right time,” she says. “The eighties, nineties and into the 2000s was a great time for art fairs. It was the product of the baby boom generation. Ann Arbor’s success in part is because Ann Arbor is such a great town with great community support. Ann Arbor has a special atmosphere.
“It’s also because we have four fairs that make up the event and the four fairs are slightly different and offer something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a piece of fine art for your collection or whether you are looking something for your niece for Christmas we have that and everything in between.”
The Bargain Day Sales, especially along State Street, are worth the trip. So is the food and entertainment and atmosphere and vibe one gets just walking around the streets during the AA Fair.
Between the four fairs, there are approximately 1,000 artists showcasing their talents. There also are many non-profit groups with information on their organizations as well as community partners advertising their upcoming events.
While there are plenty of things that remain the same each year – why fix it if it isn’t broken – the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is always changing, evolving and moving forward. And that starts with the artists.
“What’s new each year is always the art,” Riley says. “We have new artists that come each year and we have returning artists who of course bring new work. That’s always our focus – the art.”
To help create an exciting balance of new artists with popular veterans of the fair, all four fairs are jury fairs.
“The original fair, for example, has very stringent jury requirements,” Riley says. “Artists have to submit their work for approval in order to be here. In our case with the Original Fair, only about 20 percent of the artists who apply get into the Fair. Each Fair has its own jury process but you can’t just call and reserve a space. You have to prove a high quality of work and professionalism that is on par with the Ann Arbor Art Fair.”
In other words, visitors have come to expect high quality pieces and unique works that has helped establish the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair as one of the best in the country. A reputation like Ann Arbor has created comes with high standards and setting the bar high when it comes to artists is what has set the Fair apart.
The AA Street Art Fair is actually four art fairs in one: The Original, AA Summer Art Fair, State Street Art Fair and the South University Art Fair. While they are run by different groups and organized separately, they are all part of one giant fair that visitors can experience at the same time – although, block off some time if you want to see all 1,000 artists showcasing their skills in AA this week.
For more information: www.artfair.org or www.visitannarbor.org/artfair/