Art Fair Outcasts
Artists on private property get the boot.
by Jan Schlain
From the July, 2019 issue
Bradley Cross has been selling his Harmony Hollow bells and wind spinners at the art fair since 1980. But, he says, "I don't have a booth space this year."
That's because he wasn't in one of the four "official" fairs. After a dozen years with the State Street fair, Cross moved to private property, in the front of what was then Matthew Hoffman's jewelry studio in Tower Plaza's retail space on Maynard St.
At the time, the Tower Plaza Condominium Association was renting their William St. frontage to Saguaro Plants. When their business dried up, they recommended the association bet on CrossUF. Since then, he and seven other artists that he recruited have sold there every year.
Cross didn't make a penny on it--the artists wrote their checks directly to the condo association--but he "ended up always having a location."
Tower Plaza was only one of many businesses that rented space in their driveways and parking lots to artists during the art fair. But last year, city council unanimously passed an ordinance banning property owners from renting sales space during the fair.
Thayer Moran of Kramer-Triad, which manages Tower Plaza, confirms that there will be no sales this year on the condo's property. He says people at the city told him that "the art fair has been struggling and dwindling, and ... having trouble recruiting returning artists because of poor sales."
Though the city went through its normal process in adopting the ordinance, including a public hearing, Bart Loeb also was caught off guard by the change. He and his brother Mark run fairs around the Detroit area, and for years, he's sold spaces at Vahan's Clothing and Tailoring on Liberty. Three other neighboring businesses did the same. Loeb says he'll be fine, but feels bad for the owners: "they use the income--thousands of dollars--to pay their summer taxes."
"It was totally a city-driven decision," says Maureen Riley, executive director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original. But she says the official fairs are glad to see less competition for their artists. But it's not just that. "We pay a lot of money to the city" for services during art fair, she says. "They were not contributing. They are making money off of us."
Though Cross will miss this year's fair, he hopes to return in 2020. "I'll apply to one of the regular fairs."
[Originally published in July, 2019.]
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