Wells Street Art Festival – Review

Saturday crowds made it impossible to walk

Saturday crowds made it impossible to walk. Beer, bars and art - a winning combination at Wells Street Art Festival.

I did Wells Street again this year. I can say this emphatically: it has the worst load-in and load-out of any show I’ve ever done, and the rain Saturday morning compounded it. They stagger the artist load-in times from 6AM to 8:30AM and queue the vehicles on North Ave or Division while waiting. The closer your booth number is to one of the two entrances, the later your load-in time. They have improved this system over the years by checking booth numbers and loading sections in numeric order so that vehicles don’t block access, but it’s a tight narrow street with booths down the middle, and invariably a crabby time for all. My time was 6:45, and I got in around 6:55. Kudos to the volunteer staff for being this organized in a sketchy situation. #Star.

But then you must move your vehicle, and even though I paid for two parking spots, I ended up in a street spot at the opposite end of the show. It was a good fifteen minute walk back to the booth. We were amused watching the volunteers try to get Bob Trisko’s yellow Hummer and 22′ trailer into a spot barely big enough for two cars. Volunteers had no clue how impossible it is to park a 40′ foot rig on Chicago’s narrow streets (Goethe is a one way residential street ).  I rented a cube van for this show knowing that I’d never get my normal rig parked here. It still took 45 minutes to get parked and get back to the booth because of the show disorganization on this issue. The volunteers really need to be better informed about parking, as they continue to provide the wrong information which wastes everybody’s precious setup time. Maybe letting folks start setting up earlier? #Fail.

The judging, if you can call it that, starts promptly at 10:30AM on Saturday. This is pretty unfair to the artists that load-in later, as they just don’t have enough time to get setup and as a consequence, they don’t get judged at all. They should change this system, or just eliminate the judging. The prizes are piffle anyway. Why bother? I never saw a judge since I was still setting up when they went by in the rain. #Fail.

Wells Street Booth - lit up for the evening crowds

Wells Street Booth - lit up for the evening crowds

Many photogs opt for a double at Wells Street. So do I, and it takes over 4 hours to setup. Saturday the rain stopped about the time we finished hanging the art, and people starting coming out in droves. We lost about three selling hours because of the rain and long setup times. Even so, I had a great day Saturday, and a phenomenal day on Sunday. I did have a very good spot, and a lot of Chicago images. But my sepia-toned prairie landscapes were well-received, and I sold a couple of those, lots of smaller matted prints and a few large framed pieces. Aside from the drunken party that starts about 5PM Saturday and kills sales after that point, the show was well-worth the agonizing setup. Sunday the weather was perfect, and there were hordes of people all day. It was one of the better shows I’ve done in the past twelve months. Shows in Michigan and Florida have been way down so far this year, at least for me, and it was nice to finally have a good show. #Star.

Not every artist did well, however. The high-end glass sculptor behind me had a very disappointing show, with sales of 10% of what he had done in previous years. Another photog a few booths away did not appear to have done as well with his black and white work. I heard other artists complaining, too, about buy/sell jewelry and poor sales. Overall the work seemed good in Wells St. I didn’t have a chance to walk the show or visit the Old Town show. #Star.

Happy Happy Happy

Happy Happy Happy

Load-out sucked, too. Since the music and beer-drinking goes on well past dusk, the artists cannot bring their vehicles onto the street until 11PM, according to the show handbook. In practice, many artists start dollying out to whatever street parking they can find on Sunday morning, and leave some cleared space for those of us with larger vehicles. I got my truck in about 11, but wasn’t loaded and on the road until 12:30AM. More confusion and mayhem. Made for a very very long day. Thank goodness that the weather was nice for load-out, and that everything had a chance to dry out. #Star.

A big thank-you to Frank and Jennifer for making Hotel Belmonte available to us and selling like aces on Saturday.

Looking forward

Well, it’s over a week since Ann Arbor’s annual art extravaganza ended, and I’m pleasantly relaxed. As usual, the shows had their share of hot, humid weather, rain and heavy crowds. While there seemed to be fewer people than in prior years, I made my share of sales, and had more customers than in previous years. But many artists and patrons noticed a downturn in the number of packages being carried down the streets. Still, Ann Arbor is the granddaddy of them all, and a big party to boot. We saw many friends from around the country, including Steve and Anita Baldauf, from Orlando, Wendy Baxter and Marc Zoschke from Springfield, Loel Martin (Chicago), Suzanne (Q) Evon from North Carolina, Glen and Linda Mace, Beth Crowder and lots of other folks we only get to see once or twice a year. It was a lot of fun.

Looking towards the rest of the summer, I have three shows in August. First up is the very pleasant Fine Art at the Village, in Rochester Hills. This show is always fun to do, not just because it’s only 6 blocks from home, but because it is run extremely well by Donna Beaubien, an artist, and veteran show producer. It is this coming weekend, at the corner of Walton and Adams — come by, say hi, take home a wonderful memory to hang on the wall!

Next up is the annual Gold Coast show in downtown Chicago. This is a 2 1/2 day show, and always fun. It is in the River North neighborhood that I worked in when I lived in Chicago a few years ago, and I always anticipate seeing lots of old friends and making new ones. I’ve got lots of great Chicago images, including the bridges on Michigan Avenue, and some interesting industrial shots. The booth is on Superior St., between Wells and Franklin (#737).

And towards the end of the month, you can find us in Perrysburg, Ohio, at the Guild’s Levis Commons Show. This is another upscale village mall with great appeal, easy parking and lots of good art. I look forward to this show as well, as a way to reconnect with our Ohio friends.

In September, I will be back in Michigan for two big shows near home — Arts, Eats and Beats in Pontiac, and Arts & Apples. It’s going to be a busy six weeks!