The crux of Mark Maynard’s philosophy as it relates to Ypsilanti’s Shadow Art Fair is not a complicated one: “Art fairs, for the most part, suck. Even the cool ones. We try not to suck as much. That is our mission. Suck less.”
And suck less they do. The allure of the annual event that Maynard (along with fellow members of the Michigan Design Militia) spawned, grows each year. As other art fairs seem to produce more yawns, Shadow strives for gasps. From noon until midnight on July 21st, at Ypsilanti’s famed Corner Brewery, this year’s fair will manifest itself like some sort of beery chimera with local artists gathering to exhibit artwork. The Shadow Art Fair is so named because it positions itself chronologically and metaphysically against the juggernaut of Ann Arbor’s annual art fair.
“We’re inclined to do the opposite of what Ann Arbor does,” Maynard says. While the larger fair is centered on commerce and bringing in the dollars, Shadow’s organizers concede that “the vendor part kind of exists to lure folks in.” This vaguely ominous claim begs the question: lure them into what?
Every year the Shadow Art Fair takes pains to not only provide a venue for local artists and artisans to show and sell their work, but an experiential (and experimental) opportunity unlike any other. Maynard admits that it is hard to find people that fit the bill, but every year they manage to find at least a couple creative creators to make the fair interactive and thought provoking. This year Vinnie Massimo will create video of Shadow visitors in front of a green screen; and Chris Sandon (another member of the Michigan Design Militia) and Martin Thoburn will showcase their Exquisite Motion Corpse project, which has to be seen to be believed.
Keeping the fair free from too much extraneous input and meddling is key to its cache, and is something Maynard will not compromise on. It is personal weirdness turned into public appeal and it attracts over 2,000 guests every year.
“We do it because it’s fun,” Maynard says, “and because of that, we want to bring together things that we want to see, which aren’t necessarily the things that sell best. That, I think, is what makes us better.”
For a paltry entry “fee” of two cents, you get access to a special brew to be unveiled on the day, and a musical lineup that includes local sonic curiosity shop The Rainbow Vomit Family Band, in addition to over two dozen vendors. The day itself is sure to be a delight as it is every year; if you aren’t bothered by weather and overcrowding that is reminiscent of Bangladesh more than Ypsilanti. But one question has swirled since the first Shadow Art Fair in 2007: what’s next?
“Lots of ideas are floating around,” Maynard muses about Shadow Art Fair. “We could kill it, or grow it. [One thing for certain is] it needs to keep changing, though. It needs to keep evolving.”
~Jasmine Zweifler, feature writer