May 2008 Issue
Arts at Heart
Follow your muse to Michigan, home of some of the country’s best summer art festivals.
Blame it on Michigan’s inspiring Great Lakes scenery. Or perhaps it’s due to the Wolverine State’s long, snowy winters, when residents are forced indoors to find creative outlets to fill their days.
Whatever the reason, Michiganians are an artistic lot. Nowhere is that more evident than at the state’s summer art festivals. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, cities and towns around the Great Lakes State erect canvas tents and invite artists of all disciplines to set up shop outdoors. From inventive clothing to photography, from sculpture to furniture, artworks of every sort grace Michigan’s public spaces in the summer. And the public arrives in droves.
Chances are good that a summer trip north of the Michigan border will coincide with one of the state’s art festivals. Here are a few of the best. Ann Arbor Art Fairs
This year marks the 49th anniversary of Ann Arbor’s Art Fairs, ranked among the highest-quality and largest juried art festivals in the nation. The Art Fairs, July 16–19, consist of four concurrent events: the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the original of the four fairs; the State Street Area Art Fair; Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair; and The Guild Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. Each occupies a distinct section of either the downtown shopping district or the University of Michigan Central Campus, and each is managed by its own staff. But all run concurrently in mid-July.
“Behind the scenes you’ll find a lot that separates the Art Fairs,” says Nick Miller, communications director of the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors
Bureau. “Each manages its own funding and has its own sponsors. And each has its own history.” One of the Art Fairs was originated by a group of
local artists, another by a collaboration of galleries.
Although each fair has a unique history, the 500,000 annual visitors to the Ann Arbor Art Fairs are unlikely to know when they’ve crossed the boundary from one fair to another, let alone to see any appreciable differences in the fairs themselves.
“On the outside, everything works together quite seamlessly,” says Miller. “And all of the Art Fairs have a very cordial relationship with one another. They realize that to an outside audience this is just one big fair.”
Items on display at the State Street Area Art Fair, for example — sculpture, paintings, ceramics and jewelry, among others — are as likely to be seen at any of the others. All four of Ann Arbor’s Art Fairs are juried, resulting in artworks of extremely high quality at each venue. And each fair lays claim to its share of 1,200 award-winning national and international artists exhibiting their works, many attracting an international following.
“We have quite a number of art collectors attending the Art Fairs every year,” says Miller. “Some of them follow a particular artist and come specifically to purchase more of their work.”
In addition to the visual arts, the Art Fairs feature live-music venues, food courts and “Imagination Stations” for hands-on art activities.
While each of Ann Arbor’s Art Fairs is within easy proximity of the others, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority makes traveling from parking areas and from one fair to another easy and cheap. For $1.50, visitors can park in remote lots and take the Art Fair Shuttle to the festival area. Once downtown, visitors can travel around and between the fairs by way of the free Link shuttle.
Ann Arbor Art Fairs, Ann Arbor
Throughout downtown Ann Arbor. For information, call 800/888-9487 or visit www.annarbor.org/artfair
Festival of the Arts
Grand Rapids celebrates its own creativity at the Festival of the Arts, June 6–7. Nearly all of downtown Grand Rapids becomes a stage, with exhibition booths and performance stages surrounding Calder Plaza, birthplace of the Festival in 1970.
Six performance venues feature dance, theater, poetry reading and storytelling, improvisational acts, and music, ranging from jazz to techno, folk and classical. Booths house visual-art displays, including juried exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and jewelry. And last but not least are the festival’s popular culinary booths, featuring samplings of foods from throughout Grand Rapids.
The Festival of the Arts is especially appealing to families, not only for the free entertainment but also for the opportunities to create their own artworks. In previous years, adults could try their hand at African drumming, printmaking, painting and graphic design. Children had opportunities for painting, hat-making, paper sculpting and sidewalk art.
Approximately 500,000 visitors attend Grand Rapids’ Festival of the Arts each summer, making this festival one of the state’s largest. It’s a statistic that festival organizers are especially proud of. But they’re even prouder of the massive community support that materializes to make the festival possible. More than 20,000 unpaid volunteers assist with organizing and managing the weekend each year, making Festival of the Arts the largest all-volunteer arts event in the nation.
Downtown Grand Rapids. For information, call 616/459-1300 or visit www.festivalofthearts.org
Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff
In St. Joseph, the Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff, July 12–13, attracts a decidedly smaller crowd. But festival organizers argue that they’ve got the edge when it comes to location.
The majority of the Art Fair overlooks Lake Michigan, located in Lake Bluff Park. The park features a juried show with paintings, ceramics, fiber works and other media by more than 200 artists. Young artists display their works at the Emerging Artists Tent, where area high school students exhibit and sell their fresh creations.
Across the street on the Krasl Art Center grounds is a variety of children’s art programs. Kid’s Zone offers youngsters a chance to make their own creations. The Kid’s Theater features live music, storytelling and theater geared to young attendees.
In addition to displaying the visual arts, the Krasl Art Fair includes an array of performing arts, including a dance stage and a live music stage. And Saturday evening features the fair’s immensely popular Jazz at Sunset concert. Located at the Shadowland Pavilion on Silver Beach, the 2008 concert features Peter White, jazz guitarist.
Lake Bluff Park, downtown St. Joseph. For information, call 269/983-0271, www.krasl.org
Traverse Bay Outdoor Art Fair
Long known as a center for art lovers, Traverse City’s Outdoor Art Fair celebrates its 48th anniversary on July 26. But the Traverse Bay Outdoor Art Fair is also considered one of the most respected in a region known for fine art.
The fair features 125 exhibitors vetted by a committee of working artists. Original art fills the festival’s exhibition tents, ranging from leather and jewelry to collages, ceramics and works in glass, wood and metal. Fair grounds are located on Grand Traverse Bay on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College, shaded by a virgin pine forest.
While many Outdoor Art Fair attendees visit Traverse City specifically to buy and collect new works, the fair attracts as many families. An emphasis on children’s activities — including interactive theater and games, face painting and do-it-yourself art projects — has drawn an increasingly diverse crowd to the Art Fair. Food prepared by the Northwestern Michigan College culinary team and live music round out the attractions.
Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City. For information, call 231/941-9488 or visit www.artcentertraversecity.com
KIA Art Fair
Kalamazoo celebrates the beginning of every spring at the KIA Art Fair in downtown Bronson Park. Sponsored by the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the KIA Art Fair has been operating since 1950, making it the second-oldest continuously running art fair in the nation.
Two hundred artists from across the country display their works at this year’s fair on June 7, including items such as paintings, ceramics, fiber, sculpture and photography, drawing more than 60,000 people every year.
The KIA Art Fair also has activities for kids of all ages, including a hands-on children’s art center, face painting and a button-making station. Music fills the air throughout the day, and food vendors provide snacks and meals.
Bronson Park, downtown Kalamazoo, June 7. For more information, call 269/349-7775, www.kiarts.org
Waterfront Film Festival
Saugatuck’s Waterfront Film Festival, June 12–15, is an art festival of a different sort. In 2008, organizers celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary as well as a big vote of confidence. In 2007, the Screen Actors Guild’sScreen Actor magazine listed Waterfront as No. 3 among its favorite film festivals in the world, right behind Cannes and Sundance.
The Waterfront Film Festival turns the idyllic Lake Michigan resort town of Saugatuck into a little slice of Hollywood each June as producers, directors, actors and film buffs from around the country help celebrate independent films. The festival is noncompetitive and features films ranging from student productions to world premieres of independent films produced by big Hollywood names.
Indoor and outdoor venues provide casual settings for viewing the films. Seminars are held throughout the three-day event, including Q&A sessions with film producers and directors. Visitors can purchase tickets to individual screenings or one-day or weekend passes.
At venues throughout Saugatuck. For more information, call 269/857-8351 or visit www.waterfrontfilm.org