HYDE PARK — The 57th Street Art Fair is planning to host its annual festival in person and online if the city grants event permits this summer.
Organizers of the annual fair, which went virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic, are tentatively planning for an outdoor festival June 5-6.
If the city approves special events permits this summer, the fair would be held on 57th Street between Woodlawn and Kenwood avenues and on Kimbark Avenue from 56th to 57th streets.
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events’ ban on event permits runs through at least March 31.
If the ban is lifted, art fair organizers hope to be “in the earlier wave” of approvals, considering the fair kicks off in early summer, publicist Tali Faris-Hylen said.
The “bare minimum” in terms of coronavirus precautions would be to follow all city guidelines, and organizers are prepared to go beyond that, fair board member Lee Tomlinson said.
Having a single, ticketed entrance, requiring one-way traffic through the fair and only allowing one household in an artist’s booth at a time are among the precautions being considered.
“The main thing is safety. We’re going to make sure people are safe,” Tomlinson said.
With the city’s coronavirus positivity rate at an all-time low, the vaccine rollout underway and the White Sox and Cubs approved for Opening Day crowds, Tomlinson said he’s “getting kind of encouraged” about the likelihood of an in-person fair.
Regardless of the city’s decision on permits, the fair will move forward with a virtual element to be rolled out in mid-April, Faris-Hylen said. She helped organize last year’s virtual fair and is doing so again this year.
Nearly four dozen artists have confirmed they’ll participate in the virtual fair, and they’ll have the option to participate in person if a special events permit is granted, Faris-Hylen said.
“We’ll curate a virtual event very similar to last year’s,” she said. “We will have a link to all the artists’ pages, and also support them in social media and traditional media.”
This year’s event will mark the fair’s 74th anniversary. It was founded by artists to give their peers a space to sell work without paying a commission, Tomlinson said.
“Back then, unless you were really famous, you couldn’t get into the galleries,” he said. “It was really difficult for artists to sell their work. That’s still our premise: to have a way for people to see our artists, see their work and buy art from them.”
Art fairs are valuable to artists and attendees, said Lucy Kennedy, a photographer based on the Northwest Side. Kennedy is a traveling commercial photographer by trade, and this year’s 57th Street Art Fair is the first time she’s entered her work into a fair.
“An avid art fair attendee for many years,” Kennedy applied to show works at this year’s event after a “challenging” pandemic year took away many professional opportunities. Fairs “show the public how creative their fellow citizens are” in a welcoming environment, she said.
“Not everyone goes to museums … . They are not always exposed to the different sorts of creations that there are,” Kennedy said. Fairs are “a great way for younger people to be exposed to channeling their creative outlet.”
The 57th Street fair and others in Chicago’s art community were “terrific” for organizing virtual events under duress last year, as they gave artists a needed platform, Kennedy said. But even the best-planned virtual fair doesn’t match an in-person experience.
“You really need to see the [artwork] to understand it and appreciate it and get a sense of scale, to understand what it took to produce something large or small,” Kennedy said. “Unless you see the thing in person, you really don’t get to know it too well.”
If the outdoor plans move forward, attendees should “wear your mask … show up and abide by the rules without complaint, and view everybody’s creations,” Kennedy said.
“Whoever’s got the mayor’s ear, they should do whatever they can to hopefully have city permits given, so these fairs can go on,” she said. “It’s not only the artists. It’s the organizers, it’s the food truck guys. … It affects everybody.”
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