The St. James Art Fair is probably the most prominent example, but there is no shortage of art fairs in Louisville. It’s a testament to the quality and quantity of the talent assembled in the city as well. But how does one make a splash in such a vast ocean? Scooter Davidson, leasing and marketing director at the Mellwood Art & Entertainment Center, believes that their upcoming art fair is something special.
What is now the September Art Fair at Mellwood began it’s life as the Ursuline Art Fair and prospered under the purview of the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville – a congregation of women religious in the Roman Catholic Church – for roughly 22 years. In 2008, that tradition came to an end.
“The nuns who used to run the Ursuline Art Fair said, ‘We can’t do it anymore. It’s too much work for us,’” says Davidson. According to Davidson, Mellwood had long awaited the opportunity to put on an art fair of their own, so they jumped at the task. The Sisters then gave Mellwood their coveted list of juried artists as well as their strict rules and guidelines for presenting. “We took the list and invited those artists,” recalls Davidson before adding, “We decided to make the show even better by also including new artists, up-and-coming artists and student artists who are going to make their careers as professional artisan craftsman.”
And Mellwood has more than delivered on that basic premise. Now in its eighth year, the September Art Fair has indeed grown and boasts creature comforts that are uncommon for any art fair, let alone one of that size. “We have indoor and outdoor spaces on our premises,” says Davidson proudly. “There are no portapotties. There are 17 actual bathrooms for our patrons.” The 160 artisans that will be represented at this year’s September Art Fair will be split between the inside and outdoor spaces, and because Louisville is known for its random spurts of Indian summer during this time of year, the idea that a nice, air-conditioned respite is never far is welcome.
Additionally, the September Art Fair has the allure of free, on-site parking, ample seating, music and entertainment from a variety of quality local acts and a surfeit of savory food options. “We have wonderful food choices not just junk,” opines Davidson. Indeed, the complex at Mellwood does contain the delectable Danny Mac’s Pizza, and according to Davidson, the vendors that will just be in place for the September Art Fair will offer food that is “gourmet at not-gourmet prices.”
The real reason that anyone attends an art fair, however, is the art, and that is something that Davidson says they both attract and cultivate. “We’re really the first juried show of the season, and all our artists do really well. People come ready to buy, they really do. It’s amazing. There are three weeks that separate us from St. James, but our artists still come because that’s enough time for them to cover if they sell out at our show.”
However, Mellwood also celebrates and champions the non-veteran artisan. “The age range of the artisans goes from age 14 to 84, and we always have about a dozen new artisans that we jury in every year,” asserts Davidson. “These are people that have never shown in an art show in Louisville before.”
Davidson claims that no other show reaches out to promising talent that is just starting out like they do. “We encourage it because that keeps the blood going,” she says. “We want and do hear people say, ‘I can’t wait to see who is new this year.’” Not only does Mellwood bring in these new artisans, they develop them as well by assisting them in their pricing, marketing and even the overall look of their booths with no additional charge.
As much as the September Art Fair has grown under this new leadership, Davidson attests that Mellwood is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the original Ursuline Art Fair: “We keep it a juried show. We maintain the strict guidelines that we inherited, but the other thing that we inherited is charity booths.” The Ursuline Sisters and other organizations such as St. Joseph’s are annually allotted booths free of charge, and the money made from the fair is then awarded to the charities they sponsor. “We absolutely love doing that,” says Davidson.
With plans to complete construction of an additional indoor space in 2018 and expand the already impressive array of artisans at their disposal, Mellwood shows no signs of stopping their forward momentum. Why wait for October? Kick off the art-fair season earlier, do it with style and help bolster the future of artistry and craftsmanship in Louisville VT
The September Art Fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on September 10 and 11 at Mellwood Art & Entertainment Center, 1860 Mellwood Ave. Admission and parking are free. For more information, please visit mellwoodartcenter.com.