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With 56 years and millions of attendees under its belt, Ann Arbor’s annual Street Art Fair is the go-to event for both artists and art-appreciators throughout the Midwest. Wednesday, July 15 through Saturday, July 18, is your chance to attend what many have called the country’s premiere art fair. While it is technically one of four Ann Arbor Art Fairs that convene together during the same weekend, the Street Art Fair is the original, and was one of the first art fairs in the country.

“The fair has grown from just a few artists on the street to over 1,000 artists each year,” said Karen Delhey, Senior Director of Marketing & Partnership for the fair. “The fairs are all competitively juried, so you’re getting the highest quality artists from across the nation.”

The fair itself began in 1960 as a way to draw people to downtown Ann Arbor during the summer months when the students had left. With roughly 500,000 annual fairgoers for the combined four fairs, the art fairs have more than exceeded that mission. 

As far as what’s new this year, the Ann Arbor Art Fair keeps its focus all about the art, with some brand-new artists, as well as familiar returning ones showing new work.

“The great thing about this event is that it embraces all that makes the city unique and different,” according to Delhey. “Each neighborhood has its own distinct personality from Main Street to South University, and the fairs reflect that.”

In addition to the art, there are plenty of music performanes for when you need to take a break. The entertainment includes Keri Lynn Roche of American Idol fame performing on the main stage on South University, and other musical artists performing on the Liberty stage in partnership with The Ark, who’s celebrating their 50th anniversary. Visitors can come get their hands dirty with an art activity area, as well as explore the many shops and restaurants the city has to offer.

Tim Gralewski, of Royal Oak, is one of the artists featured in this year’s State Street Art Fair. He works in screenprinting, a type of printmaking, and is looking forward to all the Ann Arbor Art Fair has to offer.

“It’s a very fun experience,” he said. “There’s so much energy, there’s so much going on with all the artists and people and music. So it’s just a really fun experience to be a part of.” But what makes the experience unique from other shows around the country, he says, is, “A lot of people who come to the art fair are just coming for the art. So the focus is primarily on the art. As a result, a lot of artists do really well in this kind of environment.”

Gralewski’s own art form is screenprinting, which used to be known as silk-printing. It involves using a stencil to transfer ink to paper. “It’s a layering process,” he described, “because you have to lay each color separately.” What makes Tim’s art unique is that it mixes graphic design with fine art—he creates his stencils on the computer, and then prints them.

“I like to play with that fine line between what we consider graphic design, and what we consider fine art. So I use a lot of text and images in my work, but it definitely has more of a fine art feel and look to it.” Gralewski‘s work is just some of thousands that will be displayed at this year’s fair—each with their own unique feel.

JD Dennison is presenting his photography at the Street Fair. A University of Michigan graduate himself, his trademark involves taking photographs at night, and then inverting them by using the negatives to create a bright and dynamic look. Dennison has been showing his work at the Ann Arbor Street Fair for the last two years.

“Artists come from all over the country, so you get to see more than you would ever see anywhere else,” he remarks.

But not only is he one of the fair’s featured artists, he’s also one of Ann Arbor’s own. “I started taking pictures while I was going to U of M for school. And that’s where I developed my style. When I looked it up, nobody was doing what I was doing.”

The fair was also one of his inspirations to start showing his work. His first introduction to the Ann Arbor Art Fair was stumbling across it accidentally. “I saw all the artists selling their work, and I talked to them. I found out that they travel around the country and sell their artwork, and I decided that was what I wanted to do. The year after that, I started selling at shows, and now I do it full-time.”

The fair is not only about art, but it’s also an important part of Michigan’s history and tradition, one that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy and participate in. 

By Sonya Lovy