As I mentioned in a previous post, I like An Arbor quite a bit. I don't, however, have a fondness for its Art Fair. At least I haven't historically. Maybe it's all the memories of working during it. Restaurant jobs during Art Fair, as you might imagine, suck. It's hot, thankless work cooking in a kitchen anyway, but the steady crowds of Art Fair make it unbearable. As I've been out of food service since my graduation from college, my opinions on Art Fair are changing a bit, though. I still don't find myself liking a lot of the art, but I don't have the same visceral reaction when I ride my bike into town and see all the white tents going up in the distance. I no longer feel like curling up into the fetal position and crying. Now that I'm older, I appreciate it for what it is - an extremely effective engine for keeping the local economy afloat during the student draught of summer. So, I like for that. Anything, in my book, that helps our independently-owned, local businesses up and running is good. So, my relationship with the Art Fair, I guess you could say, is maturing.
Soon after moving to Ypsilanti it occurred to me that there might be an opportunity for us to benefit from Art Fair as well. If we could coordinate our restaurants and bars, I thought, we could maybe pitch something like an "Escape Ann Arbor" event for locals. They may not be willing to say it publicly, but I know a hell of a lot of people who live in Ann Arbor that absolutely hate the Art Fair and the throngs of fanny-packed tourists that it brings along in its wake. I think these folks would welcome a slightly subversive opportunity to lash out by spending a few dollars in Ypsi. At the very least, I thought, we'd get a ton of bitter restaurant employees. (And, yes, like Obama, I used the word "bitter.") As I can attest, they spend quite a bit of money and tip pretty well... Anyway, that was the genesis of what was to become the Shadow Art Fair.
Like most of my good ideas, nothing happened with it for a few years, until I mentioned it to the right group of people. In this case, it was five people that I'd met through Jennifer Albaum's store, Henrietta Fahrenheit. We all sold stuff through the store, which had since closed, and we all wanted to keep making and selling whatever it was that we were making at the time. In addition to Jennifer Albaum, the team consisted of Timothy Furstnau, Molly Mast, Melissa Dettloff and Tiffany Threadgould. (Tiffany's since moved on to New York, but the rest of us are still together, running the Shadow empire)
I brought my "Let's do something in Ypsi during Art Fair" idea to the table, and the rest is history. All the right components were in place. Our friends Matt and Rene Greff had just opened the Corner Brewery in Ypsi, which I thought would provide the perfect venue, and we knew tons of people doing insanely creative work in art, fashion and music. We thought that, even if we didn't get a lot of customers, it would be cool just to sit around, drink beer, and talk with other people doing interesting work. Our hope was that collaborations could be discussed and other creative projects might spring up as a result.
Well, as rarely happens, at least for me, we were apparently at the right place at the right time. People, for whatever reasons, were ready for a broad, quirky, playfully counter-culture art fair. Maybe they were rebelling against Ann Arbor's established, high dollar art fair, and all of its living room-friendly landscape paintings. Maybe they just longed to meet people doing interesting, handmade, non-corporate work. For whatever reason, people came out in droves to meet the collection of zine makers, fashion designers, musicians and artists that we'd pulled together. It far exceeded our wildest expectations. (At least 1,500 people attended the first SAF)
And, with success came some pretty big questions.
By the time we'd done two, word had spread pretty far. We were getting mentioned here and there, and, as a result, some large corporate entities started sniffing around. Sponsorship offers were made. And we, the founders of the fair, had a frank conversation about what we wanted. Happily, we all agreed on one thing. We didn't want to "cash in" in what we'd created. We didn't want to take the money of a large corporation that would then make demands on us, and try to change what we'd built. (We actually offered to put their sign in the bathroom for an obscene amount of money, which we were thinking we could then pour into art supplies for needy kids, but they didn't respond)
If we didn't want to grow that way, though, what direction did we want to grow in? We'd decided to have them twice a year, but what else? Did we want to make the it bigger? Did we want to spread it over multiple venues? Did we want to raise the table-rental fees now that so many people were applying to be vendors, and use that money to fund other endeavors? Did we want to set up an online store so that we could sell items to folks that lived too far away to attend?
In the end, we decided not to change much about the SAF itself. We continued to try different things, like going to two days instead of one, and having music outside instead of inside, but those changes weren't terribly significant. The Fair pretty much kept its eccentric character. We decided instead to focus on other projects that would leverage the success of the SAF. Like Zingerman's, we decided to diversify.
Melissa brought the first project to the table. She suggested that we start a grant program. We all liked the idea, and decided in order to fund it that we'd put a bucket out in front of our next event with a sign asking for every person coming in to leave a nickel. We raised $917.18 that way. (Some people clearly left more) And, we had a few friends brew a special beer for the occasion, with a dollar from every sale going into the same grant fund. By the time we added everything up, we'd raised $1,027.18, and all of that money is now available. So, if you've got a damned good idea, let us know about it - we've got money to invest.
Here's the announcement as it appears on our site:
People in Washtenaw county have great ideas. Some ideas or projects, like the Shadow Art Fair, don't take much to get going. Others do. We recognize that we have several brilliant, ambitious people in this community and we want to give them the tools they need to accomplish great things. Through this special grant program, we hope to do just that.
Here briefly are the criteria we're looking for:
All projects, for the purposes of this grant program, will have to stay within legal boundaries. For instance, if public artwork is a component, it needs to be done legally.
Preference may be given to groups and individuals who are able to leverage other resources. For instance, if you can come up with a matching grant from elsewhere, or if you have in-kind donations being offered, that will be taken into consideration.
The more inspiring, brilliant and ambitious, the better.
You must remain loyal to the inclusive, DIY ethic of the Shadow Art Fair.
All projects must lend themselves to documentation of some sort, witch will be shared online through the SAF website. Elapsed progress on the selected project(s) is expected to be presented at the 2008 Winter Shadow Art Fair, the first Saturday in December. You may be asked to submit a progress report before presenting at the Winter Shadow Art Fair.
- We will consider the number of people being included, affected, impacted by the proposed project.
So, what's your idea?
Be resourceful. Think about your community. Funding is being cut everywhere. We need to be creative. How can you realistically effect change? Who do you know who could help? Are there artists you could bring together for an event? We have to create the change we want to see in our community, and this is your chance.??
Are you a retired teacher who wants to hold a Saturday morning arts class for kids at the farmer's market? Do you just need a few hundred dollars to get a local art material exchange site launched on the internet? Do you want to produce a speaker series in cooperation with a local university?
So, how about it?
If you have an idea, you'll find our application form here.
Also, the date of the next Shadow Art Fair has been announced. It will be noon to midnight on Saturday, July 19. If you want to be a vendor, we have an application for that too.