Making the Most of the Ann Arbor Art Fair 2017


Ann Arbor Art Fair 2017

Looking down at the 1970 Art Fair from a cherry picker. Photo from artfair.aadl.org.

Whether you’ve never been to the Ann Arbor Art Fair before or you’re a veteran fairgoer, there’s always something new to learn that can improve your experience.

The top piece of advice from Karen Delhey, one of the event’s organizers: “Do your research. It’s really important to go on our website before you come out and make your plan of attack.”

Everyone’s interests and tastes are different, so Delhey suggests you figure out your own must-dos and must-sees ahead of time. Check out the list of artists to find your favorites or seek out potential new discoveries. And you might want to map your route before you head out as well.

The 2017 edition of the Ann Arbor Art Fair runs Thursday-Sunday, July 20-23, throughout the downtown and campus areas of Ann Arbor. One of the largest and most prestigious events of its kind, the fair showcases the works of more than 1,000 artists in individual artist booths. Other attractions include live music, artist demonstrations, and activities for kids.

“Obviously it is a huge economic boost to the area,” says Ruth Crowe of Ann Arbor, a first-time exhibitor who works in encaustics, photography, and image transfer. “But I love the energy that comes with it. The people who travel from all over to attend each year and all the different artists bringing their talents to A2. It is a treat to have this available to our community. We are lucky to live in such a supportive area for art.”

Technically, the event consists of four separate fairs all happening at the same time, with the original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair marking its 58th year in 2017. (Read how it all began at artfair.aadl.org.) And despite the event’s long history, regular fairgoers can always find something fresh and different.

“All of us get excited about the new art coming in, whether it’s new artists or new works from returning artists,” says Delhey, executive director of the Guild of Artists & Artisans, which runs the Summer Art Fair. (The other fairs are the State Street Art Fair and the South University Art Fair.) “The show is really never the same twice.”

Ann Arbor Art Fair 2017

South University Avenue during the first fair in 1960. Photo from artfair.aadl.org.

More Tips for Attending

» “If you want to really enjoy the booths, then consider sticking with a very small group of people who enjoy the same thing,” says exhibitor Nawal Motawi of Motawi Tileworks. “Two is a great number! Like any other activity, I would want to understand my companion’s reason for going and agree on how we want to approach the experience.”

» Ask questions. “Don't be afraid to talk to the artists,” says Crowe. “Most artists love to educate people about their art. Buy something that speaks to you (within your budget). Art has a place in every home.”

» Be selective. “My style is to keep walking along until something in a booth speaks to me. I’ll look in for a minute or two. If I am really taken with the work then I might spend 10-20 minutes engaging with the work or the artist. That might happen 10 times total,” Motawi says. “I don’t feel the need to look hard at everything, or understand the art in it all. I just spend time with the work that really speaks to me.”

» Don’t be intimidated by parking. Delhey notes that there is a lot of available parking in garages and surface lots downtown. Or, park for free outside the fair and take an air-conditioned shuttle bus downtown for a $3 round-trip fare. Shuttles leave from the parking lots at Huron High School, Pioneer High School, and Briarwood Mall.

» Take advantage of Art-Go-Round, the free circulator bus going around the entire fair site, stopping at eight locations approximately every 15 minutes.

» Use the fair’s website while you’re at the fair; it’s optimized for mobile devices.

» Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and wear good walking shoes.

» Stay cool. The Michigan Theater offers a great place to cool off in the heart of the fair.

» Watch the weather forecast and be prepared, especially if storms are possible.

Last year, the fair switched from its longtime schedule of Wednesday through Saturday to a new Thursday-through-Sunday format. Although rain on the final day last year didn’t help, the new schedule went well enough that it’s back for 2017.

“Everybody felt good about it. We didn’t get any negative feedback from anyone,” Delhey says of the change.

One new attraction this year is Legoland creating a mural that will be moved after the fair to the Legoland store at Great Lakes Crossing mall. That will be part of the Art Activity Zone on Ingalls Mall near East Washington Street. The Art Activity Zone also offers several other free, family-friendly art projects that are open to all ages.

Ann Arbor Art Fair 2017

Clockwise from top: "50 Years of Originality, 1960-2009" poster designed by Nicario Jiminez; postcard of the 35th Annual Street Art Fair, 1994, designed by Matthew Metz of Minnesota; "No Art Fair Parking" poster, 1990s, designed and photographed by S.G. Maggio. Images from artfair.aadl.org.

Other Attractions

» Live performances. The visual is never the only type of artistry on display at the fair. One popular annual attraction is the three music stages that run throughout the event, showcasing a range of local and regional performers. Stages are located at the corner of Church and Willard streets; off William just east of Main; and in Ingalls Mall.

» Artist demonstrations. Visitors can see renowned local chalk artist David Zinn work in person from 1-3 p.m. Thursday, July 20 and Sunday, July 23 at Liberty Street and Fifth Avenue. Other artists will showcase their process in a full schedule of demonstrations “under the big maples” on North University Avenue.

» Food booths. Food courts offer a wide variety of eats from local restaurants and visiting food trucks. Locations are on Liberty west of Main, Ingalls Mall, and Church Street south of South University.

» Nonprofit booths. An always-interesting sidelight to the fair is the collection of political, social and “other” organizations that set up informational booths in a designated zone on East Liberty Street east of Fifth Avenue.

» Sidewalk sales. Throughout the downtown area, local retail stores take advantage of the Art Fair to offer deals for visitors.

» People watching. Not an official part of the fair, but surely a major attraction for many fairgoers. Says Delhey: “It’s an experience, and not one that you’re going to find in many places.”


Bob Needham is a freelance writer; the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com; and a veteran Ann Arbor Art Fair-goer.


The 2017 Ann Arbor Art Fair runs 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, July 20; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, July 21; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, July 22; and noon-6 p.m. Sunday, July 23. Admission is free. The fair takes place throughout the downtown and campus areas of Ann Arbor; for specific locations including closed streets, see the official Art Fair map. For more information, see the Ann Arbor Art Fair website. The annual prelude to the fair, the Townie Street Party, takes place from 5-9:30 p.m. Monday, July 17 on Ingalls Mall and North University Avenue. Visit artfair.aadl.org to see the library's Art Fair archives.