“This year we have something very big that’s happening,” says Karen Delhey, executive director of the Guild of Artists and Artisans, sponsor of one of the four independent events that collectively make up the Ann Arbor Art Fair. All four fairs share the same big news: the 2016 fair will begin and end one day later than usual.

Since it started in 1960, the fair has run from Wednesday through Saturday. This year, it will open on Thursday, July 21, at 10 a.m., and end at 6 p.m. Sunday.

“You can’t put your head in the sand,” says Maureen “Mo” Riley, executive director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original. “Just because [the old schedule] was right for 1960 doesn’t mean it’s right still. It’s a twenty-first-century economy and world. Most families now have two working parents. Mom can’t just take off and go shopping during the week. Now people are so jammed at work, you can’t just take off on Friday; if you do, you pay dearly on Monday.”

That puts a premium on weekend sales–as other art fairs realized long ago. “We looked at the top 100 fairs in the country, and we were the only fair not open on Sunday, except for one which was a Saturday [only] event,” says Maggie Ladd, executive director of the South University Area Association.

The historic schedule was hard on the artists, too. It was the only top fair where they were required to set up on Tuesday and close up shop and check out by Saturday night. This left many scrambling to get to Ann Arbor from a prior art fair that ran till Sunday, and with an extra day to kill on the back end.

Ladd has been running art fairs since 2000 and says that changing the schedule has been discussed as long as she can remember. But figuring out how to change, and then making it happen, required getting agreement from all four fairs and from the city, businesses, and churches.

Ladd says the impetus came from the fair directors asking themselves, “How do we insure the sustainability of this event?”

Riley says that the fairs’ boards and executives could all see the strategic benefit of changing the schedule. But each fair has its own history, mission, budget, and board, and most of the time they operate in parallel rather than jointly, each managing its own geographical and artistic kingdom.

Reaching consensus on a new schedule required unprecedented levels of collaboration. “We worked closely together,” says Ladd. “We set up meetings with the members of each board–my board, the Street Art Fair, the Guild, and State Street. Two board members from each group got together. We had informal meetings in a private room in a restaurant, two to three times a year, so board members could get to know each other.

“We talked about issues that gave us better sustainability. Those meetings helped a lot. Staying open on Sundays is one of the main things that came out of those meetings.”

Ladd says their first thought was to shorten the fair to three days: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That would not only gain a second weekend day, it would make it easier for the artists, who have to sell for a grueling forty hours over four days, plus setup and teardown time.

The executive directors and their boards took the idea of extending the fair through the weekend to the stakeholders and partners. “It was surprising that the businesses –bars and restaurants particularly–thought this was a great idea,” says Ladd. “I don’t know if that’s a reflection of the change in the way people enjoy their leisure time, but I don’t remember businesses ever telling me that before.”

But the businesses didn’t want the fair to be any shorter, because the art fair is good for business of virtually every kind, and business associations sponsor or host all but the Original fair.

So they decided to keep a four-day schedule but shift from Wednesday-Saturday to Thursday-Sunday. That brought the first roadblock into focus: if the fairs were still occupying the streets on Sunday morning, and the parking structures were still charging admission to fairgoers, where would people going to church park?

“Remember that South U and State Street associations are the producers” of those fairs, says Ladd. “They are membership organizations, and we have to take [the members] into account”–including the members that are churches. “We wanted to make sure they were represented–they’re not represented most of the time.”

“We have four major churches in our neighborhood,” explains State Street District executive director Frances Todoro-Hargreaves. “They looked toward me as association membership rep and asked, ‘How can you help us?'” Four other churches would see access and parking limited by the South U and Guild fairs.

The fair execs didn’t want to repeat the fiasco of last year’s Ann Arbor Marathon, which fell on Palm Sunday. No one warned the First Congregational Church that the streets around it would be closed that day, Todoro-Hargreaves says; pastor Bob Livingston told her that 100 families gave up trying to get to services and went home. The fair directors saw that and asked themselves, “How can we handle this better?”

With the largest group of affected churches, Todoro-Hargreaves was the natural link between the congregations and the fairs. She was also a natural link with the city: when she came to Ann Arbor around the turn of the century, one of her first jobs was working for then-mayor John Hieftje. Then she worked for McKinley, which is how she got to know the State St. district. She was on the board of the State Street Area Association before being hired to run it last year. They’ve just adopted a new name: the State Street District.

Todoro-Hargreaves jokes that she “stalked” the churches. She learned that more than 600 people attended two morning Masses at St. Mary’s Student Parish, and 145 at a single morning service at First Congregational.

Delaying the fair’s planned opening from 10 a.m. till noon on Sunday reduced the conflict, but still left more than 800 worshippers at St. Mary’s afternoon and evening Masses to accomodate. And even for churches with only morning services, there were problems of access and parking to address. “We have put together a process that the four fairs together would print and distribute paper vouchers for each church,” she explains. “Families will mark what service they came to.” The vouchers will allow churchgoers to park for free at city or U-M structures.

Last year, the four directors and some of their board members met with then-city manager Steve Powers. Powers then went to his department heads and asked them what was needed to make the schedule change work. Says Ladd, “That generated a memo: ‘How much extra money would this cost?’

“Nobody at city said it can’t be done. They said, ‘Here is what we estimate the costs will be.’ We couldn’t have gone forward if costs are prohibitive.

“We have to pay for all of the services,” explains Ladd. “We’re charged for applying for the permit, the streets’ square footage [the fairs occupy] … for barricades, solid waste, fire insurance–any costs that the city incurs, they charge back to the organization, whether it’s a car show or art fair.

“Part of the hard work has been done by TheRide,” which operates shuttles from Briarwood and Pioneer High (see map, p. 44). The “DDA was also very helpful and supportive. They had similar challenges, in that their employees don’t usually work on Sundays. Same with Republic Parking.”

New community services administrator Derek Delacourt says the city’s main responsibilities during the fair are public safety, traffic, and solid waste, and he’s optimistic that the shift will go smoothly. But for the city, too, Sunday staffing is an issue. Public services administrator Craig Hupy explains that when the art fair ended on Saturday, solid waste crews could work an “early eight hours” on Sunday, so that the streets were “ready for the real world” on Sunday at noon.

Now the city will have to do the work on Sunday night. “That is problematic,” Hupy says, because state and federal laws mandate rest periods for drivers between shifts, and the city doesn’t have a backup crew. That means drivers working Sunday night won’t be able to roll immediately into their normal Monday morning shifts. Hupy says they have “a plan in place” to get caught up, but he sounds a touch uncertain about how it’ll all work–he says he’ll have a better idea how he feels about the shift after the fair.

The city calculated that trading Wednesday for Sunday would increase its total service bill to the fairs from $60,000 to around $80,000. Police chief Jim Baird says he’s also recommending a “higher staffing model” for this year’s fair, given the recent tragedy in Orlando, so policing costs may also rise. But none of the art fairs is passing the added expense on to their artists. “We can’t increase booth fees without affecting our applications,” Ladd explains. (Her fair charges $700, $100 extra for a corner booth.) Instead, they’ll work to increase corporate sponsorships : “The big one is Sprint,” says Ladd. Also, “HDTV, DTE, Michigan Lottery, Xfinity. Those are the big ones.” Community sponsors include the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the DDA, and TheRide.

Once the directors got the figures from the city and agreed they could handle the costs, they went to city council to get the permits. “They had questions about the churches,” Ladd says. “We said we had been working with the churches for nine months. One of the First Congregational church leaders spoke at the meeting. They voted at that same meeting, and we got our permits.”

The Thursday-Sunday schedule “makes a lot more sense” to Colorado jeweler Cathryn Martinez. Martinez sells at the South U fair, this year in a “real pretty location” near the U-M president’s house.

As long as the fairs are making changes, she’d like to see sales end at 8 pm. instead of 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

“There are an average of a thousand artists there, in all the fairs, right?” she says. “We get out at 9 p.m., which means we’re packed up around 9:30 p.m. We don’t want to eat that late. I’ve discussed this with numerous artists, and we agree. We would want to go out to dinner if the fair closed at 8 p.m. It’s just too late when we’re done at 9:30 p.m.”

Austin book crafter Mychal Mitchell says she’s “thrilled” to trade Wednesday for Sunday. And like Martinez, she says, “I’d love it if [the fair] closed at eight.”

Long hours and July weather that’s “hot as Hades” make Ann Arbor Mitchell’s most grueling fair. She says she keeps coming because business is good–she makes about $10,000 during the four-day event, no matter what the weather–and because she has fun with the other artists who attend.

A couple weeks before the fair, Mitchell plans to email her list of about 1,000 Ann Arbor customers to remind them that the dates have changed this year–but her booth location at the State St. fair hasn’t. She’ll be back on William near Jimmy John’s.

At this point, getting the word out about the change is the last remaining challenge. Last year, only the South U fair had signs to alert visitors about the schedule shift. The fairs jointly ran an ad in the official art fair guide that they figure reached 50,000 people, and the news is also on their websites and Facebook pages. But there are still a lot of people to reach.

“We know anecdotally and through survey data that was compiled last year [that] the majority of our visitors are from outside of Washtenaw County,” says Riley. “The survey also showed that art fair visitors are close to 400,000.”

“Those who traditionally come on Wednesday are usually out-of-towners and out of state,” says Ladd. Some are likely to come out of habit on Wednesday only to discover they’re a day early. Getting the message out to everyone, says Ladd, “might take a few years.”

But “I’m feeling optimistic,” she says. “We’ve done a lot. We’ve done our homework. We’ve been inclusive of all our partners. Now we just have to see.

“If the weather’s great, it’ll be a huge success.”