the shadow art fair

As most of you in Michigan know, Ann Arbor has an annual event called Art Fair which brings hundreds of independent artists from all over the country to the city to show and sell their wares each summer. The well-established, highly-regarded event is criticized by some locals for pretty much shutting the city down, but, as it pumps a huge amount of money into the local economy (during a period when the students aren’t here spending their parents’ cash), most would agree that it’s a good thing. Sure, the art can be a little safe and “living-roomy,” but some people like buying art to match their furniture, and I’d rather that they bought their stuff on the street in Ann Arbor, directly from the artist, than through an excretion site of the very evil Thomas Kinkade machine, or some other art-by-the-yard operation.

For a long time now, I’ve been thinking about the Art Fair and all the money it brings into Ann Arbor, and wondering if there might not be an opportunity for us in Ypsilanti to do something, either somewhat similar or completely contrary, that would bring people here. My first thought was that we could have some kind of locals-only event, catering to the folks in Ann Arbor who wanted a break from all the Art Fair madness. Ultimately, however, I decided that it would take too much coordination with local merchants to pull off. I also thought that it might lead to bad blood between Ann Arbor and Ypsi merchants, with the former thinking that we were trying to siphon off their much needed business.

So, I started thinking about the possibility of an event focusing on local creative types that we could have either before or after Art Fair. As luck would have it, at about the same time that I was thinking about all of this, a few of us who had been selling our products through Jennifer Album’s store, Henrietta Fahrenheit (which, sadly, went out of business six months ago or so), started meeting to discuss the problems and opportunities that come along with being a small indie in a sea of big business. (We call ourselves the Michigan Craft Militia, although the members represent a scope of activities broader than the word “craft” would imply.) Well, they liked the idea and started working wth me n fleshing it out.

With these people at the core, we’ve begun to plan for an event in Ypsi, at an as yet undisclosed (but very cool) location, on Saturday, July 15, smack dab between Elvisfest and Art Fair. The working title of the event is The Shadow Art Fair, and the focus is, to put it simply, on local people who make interesting things. We’re just starting, but we’ve got clothing designers, zine publishers, jewelry makers, artists, photographers, record labels and all sorts of other people lined up already. While I don’t expect that we’ll get even .25% of the half-million people that Art Fair, now in it’s 46th year, will attract, I think that those that do come will have a damned good time, and find interesting, unique things that they’d never be able to find otherwise. Just as importantly, however, we’ll be giving people an opportunity to meet, network and discuss the world that exists beyond designer labels and blind (bland) mass-consumerism.

And, most exciting to me, I think The Shadow Art Fair is going to be the perfect little thing for Ypsi, a town, unlike many in America right now, that has been able to keep its unique identity in spite of the rising tide of suburban homogenization. If anyplace should have a DIY Festival, it’s Starbucks-free Ypsilanti. And, while I wouldn’t want this to come across as anti-Art Far, or anti-Ann Arbor in any way, I think that the event, if it comes off like I think that it has the potential to, will show Ypsi to be the kind of place that still values individual creativity and the work of inspired visionaries (in the tradition of Windsor McKay, Elijah McCoy, and Iggy Pop). So….

“Long live Ypsi, and the ability to make shit for ourselves.”

Wish us luck…. And, if you’d like to help out in any way, let me know — especially if you have an idea for a logo.

See you on July 15. (Put it on your calendar.) More news to follow.

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  1. muppster
    Posted April 15, 2006 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    i’m so in. i’ve been talking amongst other ypsi-ites (maybe some of the same ones as you) about something similar… in terms of figuring out a way to support the hipster-crafter and related scenes around here. let me know how i can help! have you seen the Detroit Urban Craft Fair? i just recently heard about it… and my necessary plug– bring the local nonprofs in on it, ’cause we could sell our own wares and support our community causes. GH is in. i could imagine youth from ozone making stuff, etc… amanda

  2. Dale
    Posted April 16, 2006 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Mark, you are a genius. Let’s spread the word.

  3. mark
    Posted April 16, 2006 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Amanda, I think that Growing Hope would be a great addition to the roster we’re putting together. I’ll be in touch soon with details… And thanks for helping to spread the word, Dale. It’s appreciated… I have to write some checks to the IRS right now, so that’s got to be it for now. Cheers.

  4. Greg
    Posted April 25, 2006 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    For dropping Winsor McCay’s name alone you deserve an award.

    A new reader,

  5. mark
    Posted April 25, 2006 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    If that’s all it takes, I’ll start dropping it in every day.

    So, what’s the award?

  6. Greg
    Posted April 26, 2006 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm…a beer? A Take 5 candy bar? (It’s the candy bar that brought me back to candy bars.) I’m pretty broke at the moment, so, that’s about all I can offer, but I’ll think of something.

    If you’d like any help setting the Shadow Art Fair up, please let me know. I’d love to be involved in any capacity. Y’can email me here: gdm [at]

  7. mark
    Posted April 26, 2006 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I will add you to the mailing list, Greg… There should be news to report shortly.

    And thanks for the offer to help. I’m sure we’ll take you up on it.

    As for the award, there’s no hurry. I can wait until you have money.

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