“We live with your art every day of our lives,” Shary Brown told a group of artists from the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, “and that’s a tremendous gift you bring to us.”
There was lots of mutual affection at an awards breakfast on Thursday morning for artists and staff – a breakfast which included possibly the largest bowls of hard-boiled eggs in town. Brown praised the people who sweat the details for this four-day cultural marathon, but this year the awards event also included an emotional send-off for Brown herself, who is stepping down from the role of executive director this year.
“Not only in this show, but in our industry as a whole, Shary’s been a big influence,” said artist Dale Rayburn, as he presented Brown with a bouquet of fresh flowers, an album of cards and a “wad of cash” collected from artists.
Karen Delhey, the fair’s partnership and marketing director, recalled the first time Brown told her about the fairy parade. A tradition on the final day of the Street Art Fair, it involves Brown and her staff dressing up in whimsical garb and parading past each artist’s booth, blessing them on their journey home. Delhey said she really didn’t want to participate that first year, but now says “as much as I hate to admit it, I love to do the fairy parade.”
A tearful Delhey thanked Brown “for letting us all know there’s a little fairy in all of us.”
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Street Art Fair, known as the “original” – it started out as a small show on South University, an adjunct to a summer sidewalk sale for local merchants. Royce Disbrow, board president for the fair, told the story of J.T. Abernathy, a local potter who participated in that first art fair. Abernathy was sleeping in when his friends pounded on his door, telling him to grab some of his pots – they were going to sell them in the street. Today, the potter is recognized nationwide for his distinctive work – and he still exhibits at the fair.
But now, of course, the Street Art Fair located on Ingalls Mall and is one of four fairs that draw a half-million people to Ann Arbor each July, to the joy or chagrin of townies. (Though townies get in on the festivities, too – Monday evening was the fifth Townie Street Party, organized by the Street Art Fair. This year several thousand people came down for live music, kids activities and general frivolity.)
Disbrow is also a potter, and made the stylized ceramic bell towers that were given as awards to artists on Thursday. Several local artists – including Abernathy, Julie Fremuth, and Chris Roberts-Antieau – were among the 10 who received the juried awards. In addition to the ceramic bell tower, the artists receive $500, a ribbon and balloons to display at their booths, and a certificate of appreciation.
And on Thursday, they all got big hugs from Brown.
Jane Lumm, a Street Art Fair board member, says Brown will be hard to replace. Lumm is chairing the search committee for the next executive director – she said anyone interested in applying can contact the fair via its website.