History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair: 1960-1969

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"Snowballing into a Mushroom"
By 1963 the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair had expanded from three days to four and presented 363 artists. Applications outnumbered available space. Booths acquired plastic roofing and lighting. They crept, like a colorful caterpillar down South University Avenue and around the corner on to East University. A children’s art fair joined the celebration. Only four years old, the fair had grown so large, the committee decided to limit the number of artists to 350; a jury system was put into place. At age six, the fair grew to three blocks, and Ann Arbor’s sister city, Tubingen, Germany, sent a display. There was art plus carnival rides, animal acts, music and five prototype Civil Defense shelters. The State Street Art Fair launched in 1968 presenting local artists on East Liberty Street.

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In 1961 Esther Rainville stated proudly in the Ann Arbor News, “Some [university art] students made enough sales to pay their tuition for the fall term.”

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Esther Rainville, speaking of the growth of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, said, “Now we don’t contact 1000 artists, 1,500 of them contact us!”

Weather Reports
The report in 1966 said, “ Wednesday saw early morning rain then grey skies and black umbrellas. In 1969 there was a heat wave, showers and high humidity. Friday had a tornado warning with 1.17 inches of rain and high winds damaging artists’ booths.

Bumps in the Road
Ann Arbor’s newest and tallest (17 stories) apartment building was under construction on South University in the midst of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. The Forest Avenue parking structure offered FREE parking even though it was still under construction.


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History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair: 1970-1979

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Blood, Sweat and Squatters
A third art fair, The Free Arts Festival, joined the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair and the State Street Art Fair to bring the count to three officially recognized Art Fairs in the city. In 1971 Ron Lutz started early recycling using discarded paper and cardboard as well as home-made paint in the children’s art area. A Blood, Sweat and Tears concert, sponsored by the Ann Arbor Ecology Center and ENACT, was held at Crisler Arena. In 1972, Main Street hosted the Downtown Photographic Fair. Finally, in 1974, portable toilets were set up and credit cards were used in artist’s booths. A great deal of effort went into trying to control unauthorized artists setting up independent booths causing congestion. In the early 70s, the directors of the fairs asked the mayor and city council to help regulate unauthorized exhibitors, peddlers and “squatters.” A Mayor’s Art Fair Committee was set up in response to the request in an effort to coordinate the three fairs. In 1975, Fair Marshals regulated pedestrian traffic and helped prevent unauthorized exhibitors and peddlers. Finally, in 1976, two ordinances were passed by city council to limit unauthorized sales of art on city streets. Shuttle bus service was implemented in 1976 in an effort to relieve parking problems. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority ran service from Briarwood, Arborland and Pioneer High School to the Fairs; cost 25 cents.

The Graceful Arch
In 1977, the Graceful Arch, a canopy constructed by students in the Tensile Structure Studio at U of M’s College of Architecture, was introduced as a performance venue. Made of lightweight sailcloth, it covered 3,000 square feet with 5,000 square feet of fabric.

Weather Reports
On Tuesday afternoon in 1972 during set up, twenty booths were destroyed and another 75 damaged by wind gusts of up to 67 miles per hour. An enormous push was put on and all was repaired by 1:00 AM in time for the opening of the fair. Mother Nature made encore performances in 1978 and 1979 and offered “heat storms” in intervening years.

Bumps in the Road
Each year potholes are repaired in the streets of Ann 
Arbor prior to the Art Fairs except in 1979. There was a strike and holes were not fixed in time. Letters were sent to artists whose booths were going to have a problem in their display areas and told to bring boards to cover the potholes.

History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair: 1990-1999

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Number One Art Fair in the Country
In 1991, MCI and AT &T offered free phone calls to anywhere in the United States. In 1993, AIDS activists marched through the Ann Arbor Art Fairs Saturday afternoon. Then in 1997, photographer Harvey (Drouillard) took a picture of eight naked people atop the State Theater; art fair patrons didn’t notice. Ann Arbor News copy editor, Jack Gillard said in 1998 that Dorothy and Toto visited the Art Fair, but are trying to get “back to Oz where things are normal.” In 1999, the Fairs agreed to open one hour later and Mr. B graduated to a grand piano.

Logos
The three logos of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Fish, the Graceful Arch, and the Funky Booth, all derived from the icons of the Fair. The current logo, the Funky Booth, came from the profile of the two-by-four and visqueen booths constructed each summer by the South University Merchants Association volunteers and high school students.

Weather Reports
Sunshine Artist Magazine named the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair the #1 art fair in the country and continues to rank it is the top five year after year. In 1991 the Ann Arbor News reported, “…the first time in memory that the four days [of Art Fair] passed without a drop of rain.” In 1994 the News said, “There was some rain everyday but Saturday, but still they came seeking art.” In 1995 the report was, “The weather outside may be hot, but the art is hotter.” Scattered thunderstorms Thursday and Saturday. In 1996, after almost a month of no rain, a torrent fell on opening day. 1997: Heat. Sluggish, oppressive heat. In 1998, Joy Hakanson Colby, Detroit News Art Critic said, “No amount of weather will quell enthusiasm for the most popular event of its kind.” Hot, humid, high of 90 degrees with a possibility of thunderstorms.. At the same time a headline in the Ludington Daily News read, “The Weather in Ann Arbor is Fair to Partly Crowded.” 1999 brought slow steady rain Wednesday, high damaging winds on Friday and 90+ degrees in between.

Bumps in the Road
In 1990, Sidewalk reconstruction projects fell behind schedule with the biggest problem on South University Avenue. In 1998, M-14, I-94 and US-12 had lane reductions and closures. It was a challenge getting in and out of Ann Arbor during the Fair. Then in 1999, there were 1,000 fewer parking slots as the Maynard and the South Fifth/East Washington structures underwent construction.

History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair: 2000-2009

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Meet Me at the Tower
In an effort to generate more revenue for its association, in 2001 the South University Area Merchants’ Association established a fourth art fair on Church Street just off South University. Improved communications were made possible in 2001 between all fairs and emergency authorities via hand-held radios. In 2003, the original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair moved from South University Avenue where it all began, to a more idyllic, less commercial North University Avenue site on Ingalls Mall surrounding the Burton Memorial Tower. “Meet Me at the Tower” became the watch word. Chris Roberts-Antieau became the Fair’s first featured artist. In 2004, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair made the top 10 lists of American Style, Sunshine Arts magazines and the Art Fair SourceBook. New in 2005: volunteer-guided tours of the Street Art Fair. A casting call for the television hit reality show “Survivor” took place on the streets during the 2007 Street Art Fair. The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is included in Patricia Schultz’ book 1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die.

Photographer Harvey (Drouillard) gave a heads up in 2008, “Potbelly’s at noon on Friday.” Free wheel chairs were offered by local health care business in response to request for more accessibility . In 2009, Shary Brown announced her retirement as Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.

Weather Reports
In 2007 the Art Fairs were evacuated in 7-10 minutes, when a tornado touched down north of Ann Arbor. With about 15 minutes warning by emergency crews and Fair staffs, artists were able to secure their art work. Everybody made new friends as they hunkered down in University of Michigan and business’ basements. The Art Fairs’ preparations for every eventuality paid off and kept all safe. A few booths were rolled around by high accompanying winds.

Bumps in the Road
In 2000, construction of the University’s School of Social Work, central campus renovations, temporary loss of the parking structure on Forest Avenue and the closing of M-14 from North Main west to I-94 all made getting to and around the fairs a challenge. US-23 closed for five minutes on Wednesday while electricians put up power lines across the road. However, construction at Plymouth and Green Roads was halted during the Fairs.

History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair: 1959-1960

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A Thousand Invitations
The idea of the fair was born in 1959 when Artisans owner, Bruce Henry, approached the Ann Arbor Art Association asking if it would put on an “arts and crafts market” in conjunction with the merchants’ Summer Bargain Days. The Art Association formed a planning committee. They wanted a show of quality and because the group wanted the effort to be educational, the Potters Guild and the Weavers Guild were asked to show and demonstrate their crafts. A thousand invitations were sent out to area artists. One hundred thirty-two responded.

On July 20, the committee, their families and friends, strung up wire between parking meters and roped off make-shift booths for 99 local artists and 33 other Michigan artists. Three tents dominated two blocks of South University Avenue. Artists hung their prints and paintings, pots were set down on the street. Even though University of Michigan professor of art and director of the Museum of Art, Jean Paul Slusser said, “No good artist will sit in the street.” they did; for three days. Bruce Henry donated Japanese paper fish which were hung from light poles to add a festive air. There was no entry fee for participating artists who, in total, earned $4,500. Down on Main Street the merchants hosted a used car auction.

First Street Art Fair Committee
Mrs. Fred Beaver, Mrs. Fred Coller, Mrs. Clan Crawford, Mrs. Harold Dorr, Mr. Bruce Henry, Mrs. Robert Horton, Mrs. Volney Jones, Mr. Milton Kemnitz, Mr. Cecil North, Mrs. George Piranian, Mrs. Earl Rainville, Mr. John Ransom, Mrs. G. Davis Sellards, and Mr. Robert Shipman. Many of the women on the committee went on to acquire first names and have identities of their own.

Bumps in the Road
Words written and repeated that first year, “Good art doesn’t belong on the street; it belongs in a museum.” and “…a scraggly little fair.”

History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair: 1980-1989

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Republicans Save Art Fair
A bus strike at the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in 1980, curtailed shuttle service; police towed and impounded 369 cars. Mark “Mr. B” Braun began his art fair career as an impromptu (if hauling a piano down to the streets can be labeled “impromptu”) jam session. Shary Brown started the Art Fairies Parade tradition by donning gossamer wings and “blessing” the artists as the fair closed. In 1983, Michigan Governor, Jim Blanchard, presented the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair with an award for promoting tourism.

Weather Reports
Ann Arbor’s worst storm ever, struck during what should have been Art Fair week in 1980. However, because the Republican National Convention was slated for that week in Detroit, the Art Fairs were rescheduled for the following week. A disaster, although not averted, was lessened because of this change. Then in 1983, an Ann Arbor News headlined, “Summer Storm Can’t Wash Out Art Fairs,” and in 1987, “Heat!” and the following year, “Worst Drought in 50 Years.” Thunderstorm Friday afternoon and rain on Saturday.” End of drought. More heavy downpours in 1989.

Bumps in the Road
In 1982, repaving work on major arteries leading to and from the city were suspended during the fair!

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