There's a lot of hype in this world. "We're the best!" "New and Improved!" "We're #1!"
Blah, blah, blah. It hardly means anything anymore.
You can believe it when the organizers of the Belleville Art on the Square fair proclaim themselves #1. They are!
I was privileged to be one of only 5 St. Louis artists (of 100 artists from 30 states and 8 countries!) chosen to be part of this fair. It did not disappoint. Part of the St. Louis metro area, Belleville is a historic town in its own right. The people are amazingly friendly. The town is grateful to have the artists there and the artists are grateful to be there. It's a win-win!
The patrons are art-savvy. They understand art and want to collect it. It helps that the show is so competitive that only the best art gets in. There's no "junk" art here. Anything you see at Belleville you will see in a gallery. That can't be said of most shows.
The Art Fair Source Book, the reference for fair artists nationwide, dubbed Belleville #1 in 2007. The rankings come from artists ourselves. We judge fairs on sales, hospitality, ease of set up, etc. We love this life, but the art fair business is hard -- physically and emotionally -- and a fair that respects the artists, pampers us a little, and makes our lives in their town a little easier gets high marks.
Lots of fairs are good. Volunteers are helpful. The food is generally pretty good, even if it's just bagels and coffee in the morning.
So what makes Belleville Art on the Square different? Part of it must be the community. Everyone, it seems, is part of this show. And everyone in town wants the artists to be there. The shop keepers aren't grumbling that the artists' tents are blocking their streets. The community leaders go out of their way to introduce themselves. I got personal visits from the Fire Chief and Chief of Police, both stopping by to let me know what their departments had planned to do to protect the artists. The Chief of Police even babysat my booth for 20 minutes while I attended some business with fair personnel. Who else does that?
This show is so dedicated to art (instead of making money, like many shows), that they have year-long artist-in-residence program that puts artists in area schools, and they sponsor a regional high school art exhibit that displayed student work that was so exceptional, it could have been displayed with the professional art in the booths.
And the fair buys art itself. The fair buys art for the town square and for city hall. That level of dedication to displaying art publicly is rare -- and so refreshing.
Patty Gregory, the show's founder & chair, and co-chair John Rule put together an amazing team. (John didn't even yell at me when I drove in the wrong way!) It's a long, exhausting show that brings 85,000 people to a small, four-block area of town to see some of the best art in the country. As exhausted as I was Sunday night at the show's end, the volunteers worked even harder.
I'm not being modest when I say I was thrilled to be part of this show. Thank you Belleville! You are deserving of every accolade sent your way. Please, please, please, invite me back!