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With an abrupt about-face, Ann Arbor Art Fair is officially back on this summer

Logan Chadde

Earlier this month, the Ann Arbor Art Fair’s organizers made the choice to cancel the event for a second year in a row due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But, after Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced outdoor capacity restrictions will be lifted June 1, the event’s directors decided the fair can now move forward.

This year’s event — comprised of the Ann Arbor Street Fair, The Original, the Ann Arbor State Street Art Fair, and the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair — will take place July 15-17 in downtown Ann Arbor. The event typically draws crowds of about half a million people to Ann Arbor — except for last year, when the pandemic forced widespread event cancellations throughout the state and nation.

Frances Todoro-Hargreaves is executive director of the State Street District and the State Street Art Fair, the first of the fairs to announce the plan to return this year. She said that, since the State Street fair shared that it would in fact take place this summer, almost 200 artists have confirmed they’ll be attending.

“They are more than ready. As soon as we sent out the survey — saying, 'Hey, we're thinking about doing this, what are your thoughts?’ — it was overwhelmingly positive,” Todoro-Hargreaves said.

She said this year’s fair will still be a little different from that of years past.

“We are encouraging people, if they feel uncomfortable, to still wear masks. We are spreading out the booths, so you are going to see less actual artists, because the booths are going to be 10 feet apart,” Todoro-Hargreaves said. “We have some experience with this, as the businesses have been doing weekend street closures, even now. So we think it's going to give people a lot of space to walk around.”

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She said the State Street Art Fair is expecting a decrease in revenue due to the limited number of artists in attendance.

“There's going to be a lot of jockeying with regard to the budget and expenses and figuring out what we're able to provide and what we're not able to provide, or what we do less of,” Todoro-Hargreaves said. “But the fair will still exist, and the businesses will still start their recovery.”

Lauren deSerres, a mixed media painter based in Pittsboro, North Carolina, says she’s looking forward to attending the Ann Arbor Art Fair for the first time this summer.

“It's a show I've had a crush on for a long, long time,” deSerres said.

She said that last year, she had made extensive plans to travel to art shows throughout the country, but the pandemic changed her schedule. Amid the deluge of event cancellations, she pivoted to focusing on her work as an arts educator, she explained.

“I had some private students that I was working with. And when the pandemic hit, one of the parents was like, ‘Hey, have you heard of Outschool?’ And I was like, ‘No, what's that?’ And she told me. And so I was like, well, maybe I'll just teach a little watercolor class, see how that goes,” she said. “Well, it carried me through the pandemic. So that parent literally saved my business with that one little conversation.”

DeSerres said art fairs are a unique way for people to connect with artists, and that traveling to art shows is an affordable alternative to opening a storefront for her business.

“I've definitely weighed the cost of that before when I was thinking, like, ‘How would I like to be an artist in the world?” deSerres said. “I feel like art fairs are a pretty cool thing, because you can get your work out, you can meet people, and that, in conjunction with online sales — I feel like it's pretty sustainable.”

For additional updates about the Ann Arbor Art Fair, follow along here.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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