This year’s annual Ann Arbor Street Art Fair – held July 15-18 – drew hundreds of thousands of people, just as it does every year, proving that this small-town event still captures the hearts of townies and visitors from all over. But if you were with me and my sisters on Saturday, the final day of the fair, you might have thought that our family dog, Bandit, was the main attraction.
Bandit, a corgi, cocker spaniel and dachshund mix, doesn’t get out much these days. At 10 years old, he is an old dog to be exploring this college town’s best known event in 95-degree weather, but he hung in there like a champ – and people loved him for it.
A Town Tradition
You can live in Ann Arbor for years and not know that the fair is actually the combination of four individual fairs and some outlying imitators. Some of these smaller gatherings of booths are simply piggybacking on the exponential success of the original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, started in 1960 on South University with just 132 artists.
Now, the main event and its satellites manifest as a vast labyrinth of booths occupying the most well-known streets in the university town: State, Main, Liberty and South University, for starters.
All of this, of course, is unbeknown to Bandit. For him, it was all about the exposed calves on the steady swarm of art appreciators and impulse buyers around him, which deserved a greeting with a wet nose or a swift sniff.
And to my surprise, people greeted him with the same curiosity and admiration. Bandit’s not an exceptionally pretty dog, but he is a dog, and that’s good enough for some folks. As artisans displayed their wares crafted in American towns like Powder Springs, GA, Boonsboro, MD and Yellow Springs, OH, to name just a few – our faithful pup drew squeals, questions (“Is he an adult?”) and persistent pointing from toddlers. One kid even stooped to get a stealthy pat on Bandit’s back as he passed, not missing a beat.
To be honest, the attention Bandit got distracted from all there was to admire at the fair, and there sure was a lot – dripped metal paintings, white forest spoons, literary calligraphy and mermaid décor. Cutlery and stoneware. Woodworking, recycled pieces, quaint photos of European towns, and of course, a never-ending sea of jewelry. There was even a booth selling wine purses, contraptions into which you can actually pour wine and then tote around with you, which you sort of have to see to believe.
Thousands of humans flowed down the street like a slow moving river, spilling into the booths and then back out moments later. When there’s so much in front of you and so much you’ve already seen, keeping the will to trudge on is difficult.
“This is huge!” one fairgoer cried out. “I’ve been walking for three days and I still haven’t reached the end! I don’t even know where I parked my car!”
And then there is the incessant heat, an Art Fair mainstay and part of the tradition, whether fairgoers want to accept it or not. Sweat covered my face the entire afternoon. And it’s doesn’t help to be under the protection of a booth, due to lingering humidity.
The key to surviving the fair is to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. Bandit didn’t believe us on this. Though he was panting like crazy, he often sniffed over the bowls of water we lovingly poured for him, or snubbed the water spurting out of the little public doggy drinking fountains.
“He looks like he needs some water,” one man warned. Many vendors were kind enough to have laid out a bowl just for that purpose. But was Bandit interested? Of course not.
And not everyone was interested in Bandit.
“I would never bring a dog here,” one woman sneered as we walked by her booth. My sisters and I shot her a dirty look, but Bandit ignored the comment, choosing the high road and marching forward, just like a good boy.
The kindness of others at the fair made up for the remark. When we stopped in a booth selling inexpensive jewelry and clothing, a tall, blond-haired young man stooped immediately to give Bandit a hearty rub behind the ears.
“We usually trade cats for t-shirts, but this puppy…” he said, trailing off.
Trade Bandit? Never.
As other dog-lovers pointed out that day, Bandit’s one-ear-up, one-ear-down look is just too irresistible, and his Corgi heritage guarantees him a lifelong spot in the “cute” category. Bandit’s our family treasure, and has now proven that he can withstand the high-intensity, high-heat monstrosity that is the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
Though the Art Fair normally runs from Wednesday to Saturday, next year the itinerary will stray from that schedule and begin on Thursday and end on Sunday. Maybe the extra weekend day will allow for more time for out-of-towners to explore not just the booths, but all there is to see in the amazing town that hosts the event.
Art Fair tips:
- Bring water
- Wear a hat
- Bring an umbrella – weather in the Midwest is unpredictable
- Wear sunscreen
- Ask before you take photos in booths
Best place for a treat:
The Cupcake Station, 116 E. Liberty Street. Snag a cupcake in your favorite flavor (plenty of vegan options!) and get a “pupcake” for your dog. Bandit downed his in a matter of seconds.
Best place for a coffee or a local brew:
Lab, at 505 E. Liberty, near State Street, which serves coffee drinks and a few different kinds of bottled beer. There are some tables and chairs outside . This is a great place to rest your feet for a few minutes.
Best place to grab dinner:
The all-vegan Lunch Room at the Kerrytown Market and Shops is a personal favorite. But you really can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants that line Main Street, or the more casual eateries spread along Liberty and State, for that matter. Most stay open during the fair.