Artists and Art Fairs Adjust to the Economy

by ekramer on April 24, 2009

Art fairs signify the change of seasons for some in this region. The St. James Court Art Fair heralds the arrival of fall, and the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair signifies spring. But the recession is affecting those who run these fairs and the artists who participate. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

Stevie Finn is working on the curb on Cherokee Road, where cars are rolling by. Finn is with the Cherokee Triangle Association, the neighborhood group that holds an art fair here every April. She’s got a measuring pole in one and a can of spray paint she is useing to mark boarders for the artists’ booths.

Back in December, the group was worried about the economy’s effects on the fair and that many artists would decide not to come. That didn’t happen. The fair will have more than 200 artists and had to turn down more than a hundred who applied. But feedback from some artists did hint at the recession. Stevie Finn.

“We do have a couple from out of state who wrote us and called us and said they were also accepted in an art fair closer to home,” Finn says. “And they chose the closer-to-home over us.”

brad-and-lamps-in-booth1About 20 miles east of here, artist Brad Devlin is hammering away in his studio making more items for his booth at this weekend’s fair.

“Right here, I’m making fish,” he says.

These fish, made of wood, are covered with found materials. They sport electrical cord, bottle caps, aluminum flashing, old flooring and nails to create whimsical designs. Devlin says these are popular and he’s making more of these kinds of small pieces, rather than big ones, because they are more affordable and they sell. It’s just one of many decisions he’s making now due to the economy. And like some of the artists who declined to participate in the Cherokee Art Triangle fair, he’s being choosy about the ones he’s going to this year.

“It’s like Nashville, Columbus, Atlanta, Indianapolis,” Devlin says. “I’ll go to Ann Arbor this year for the monster.”

Most fairs are close to home, and the monster is The Ann Arbor Art Fairs* in Michigan. They are four fairs in the city that take place each July. They have about a thousand artists and attracts about a half a million attendees. That fairs’ administrators say they’ve received fewer applications from artists this year, and some of the sponsorship dollars have dropped off.

Many other fairs are having similar experiences, says Cameron Meier, editor of the magazine Sunshine Artist, which covers art and craft fairs. He says fairs in regions harder hit by the recession are offering discounts on artists’ fees and finding other ways to reduce costs for artists to attend.

But right now, Meier says artists, like Devlin, are doing the most by adjusting their marketing strategies and revising what they sell.

“Artists are learning to have a larger variety of price points with their art,” Meier says. “They’re learning to market themselves more aggressively, combine their traditional marketing with maybe some Internet marketing.”

Meier says they’re making smaller items that are more affordable and even items that function, like bowls or even lamps, which Devlin makes.

And Margue Esrock is taking note of these trends. She’s the executive director of the St. James Court Art Fair, which is one of the largest in the country. So far, she hasn’t seen sponsorship dollars drop, but she has extended the deadline for artists to apply. She says there are still many unanswered questions about how to handle the show in light of what is happening with the economy.

“The uncertainty. Is the show going to be worth it?,” she asks. “You know, St. James is lucky in that we do draw crowds and we have in the past and I don’t see that dropping. Whether they’re going to buy or not: that’s the key.”

Back in Brad Devlin’s studio, he says there are a few things he does know.

“There’s always somebody out there doing well, and there’s always somebody out there doing worse than you,” Devlin says. “So, I have no idea what to expect this year past Cherokee Triangle.”

And throughout the summer, artists and art fair administrators will be monitoring what happens this weekend and at other fairs to refine their coping mechanisms.

The Ann Arbor Art Fairs*
Ann Arbor Street Art Fair
Ann Arbor State Street Art Fair
Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair
Ann Arbor South University Art Fair

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