The Essential Guide To The Ann Arbor Art Fair for Families

by | Jul 6, 2024 | Family Adventures, Midwest, USA

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The air around the Ann Arbor Art Fair hums with the chatter of excited voices. Freshly popped kettle corn mingles with the earthy aroma of hand-thrown pottery, oil paints, and wooden sculptures. The Ann Arbor Art Fair is a non-profit arts organization designed to deepen the community’s appreciation of art. Plus, it’s one of our favorite local festivals.

This three-day event is an annual celebration held every July in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the University of Michigan. The fair displays the depth of creativity within the community of this buzzy college town. 

The Ann Arbor Art Fair is notably the largest juried art fair in the nation, showcasing the talents of around 1,000 artists.

Join us as we share everything to know about making the most of this vibrant family event.

 

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Ann Arbor Art Fair

 

What to See and Do at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

The Ann Arbor Art Fair encompasses a 30-city-block footprint that snakes through the streets of Ann Arbor from Main Street through Forest Avenue. When families arrive at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, they’ll be immediately impressed by the sheer variety of art on display. That’s because three separately juried art fairs are happening simultaneously: The Original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Guild’s Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, and the Ann Arbor State Street District Art Fair

 

woman creating wheel thrown pot at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Here is what we know about hand-thrown pottery- it’s relaxing to watch, and it can be relaxing to do if you know what you’re doing. 😉 ©Shutterstock

 

Interactive Art Experiences

One of the highlights for families is the many interactive art experiences. Look for the Art Activity Tent, which provides free art activities designed to spark creativity in young minds. Beyond the activity tent, families can check out Chalk the Walk with Ann Arbor’s own David Zinn. Chances are that someone in the family has seen Zinn’s work on social media. His creations are whimsical, and they incorporate their natural surroundings… a squirrel watering an actual weed that is growing through a crack in the sidewalk that, with Zinn’s help, turns into a giant yellow chalk-drawn sunflower. In Chalk the Walk everyone gets to play the role of Zinn!

 

 

Pro Tip: Have chalk on hand at home for after the event. When the kids inevitably get bored this summer, encourage them to “chalk the neighborhood.” 

 

little girl drawing with chalk as sun sets Ann Arbor Art Fair

One of my best friends told me, that when giving the kids a bath at the end of a long summer day the dirtier the water means the better the day. I never forgot that. The bath water should be dirty! (Afterwards, not before.) ©Shutterstock

 

Street Performers and Live Music

The Ann Arbor Art Fair isn’t just about visual art; it’s also a celebration of performance art. Street performers, musicians, and dancers do their thing at various spots throughout the fair. Notably, The Tumbleweed Circus, known for roller skating parkour, lasso throwing, and fire performance, is setting up base at the art fair for the entire three days. At last year’s fair, my boys were captivated by a group of talented jugglers; little did they know mom could juggle ten times as much in the form of work, activities, chores, and everything else.

 

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Artist Demonstrations

The artist demonstrations at the fair are fascinating. There are a couple that we would recommend for families, as they blur the line between art and entertainment. The first is The Ann Arbor Potter’s Guild, which will showcase artists delivering live demonstrations of clay-thrown pottery creation every day of the fair. And second, The Toledo Museum of Art, which is bringing “The Baby Dragon,” a mobile glassblowing furnace, to the fair. Me and my boys could watch the glassblowers all day long. There is just something magical about watching these artists work with fire and glass to create delicate pieces of art.

My favorite reason to take the boys to the fair is the demonstrations. They can watch artists at work, learn about their techniques, and even ask questions. It’s a great way to deepen their appreciation for the creative process, which tends to lead us into a conversation about hard work and creativity. 

 

Glass blowing at Ann Arbor Art Fair

This is the kid of art that feels like magic. I could watch it all day. ©Shutterstock

 

Arts, Engineering, and Science

At the University of Michigan tent, young creatives will love to learn how to make cyanotype, a camera-less type of photography that mixes the sun’s UV rays with iron salts. The process makes bright blue and white prints on heavy paper (see below). Families will be able to take home a cyanotype of Michigan flora. A simple wood frame can elevate this project into art worthy of the kitchen or living room. 

For my boys, who love everything that has to do with cars, they especially are interested in their design. BMW will host a tent that introduces visitors to the artistic process of car design. Guests will be able to take home a limited-edition poster designed by the winner of The BMW Ultimate Creator Challenge. This is the perfect opportunity to show children how art isn’t just an “extra” school class, but something that many adults are able to craft a career from. 

 

Cyanotype activity at Ann Arbor Art Fair

Any activity that gets kids outside and off of a screen is a win in our book! ©Shutterstock

 

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When Visiting Ann Arbor

Beyond the Ann Arbor Art Fair, Ann Arbor itself is a destination worth exploring. This charming college town offers guests a blend of cultural experiences and outdoor activities. Many visitors make the art fair an excuse to stay for a long weekend, and we don’t blame them!

 

Cultural and Educational Hub

Because it’s home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor boasts a rich academic and cultural environment. Visit the university’s museums, such as the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History, which offer fascinating exhibits for all ages. 

My boys love visiting the Museum of Natural History where they get to interact with passionate college students who are eager to share their knowledge about the natural world. Besides getting to see this interaction, my other favorite part about this museum and the art museum is that they both offer free admission!

 

boy at museum in Ann Arbor

My family loves visiting the museums in Ann Arbor. There is always something new to discover at The Museum of Natural History! ©Steffy McCourt

 

Beautiful Parks and Nature Trails

If your family enjoys outdoor activities, Ann Arbor has plenty to offer. Gallup Park’s scenic Huron River are perfect for kayaking, canoeing, and picnicking. Nichols Arboretum, known as “The Arb,” provides beautiful walking trails and a peony garden in the spring. Local photographers flock to these parks in the summer and fall. One of my all-time favorite family photos was taken in The Arb. There is just something about the setting that makes everyone feel peaceful, which, of course, leads to beautiful photos.

 

Ann Arbor Art Fair

The gardens at Nichols Arboretum have inspired many local artists, and they make the perfect spot for a morning stroll. ©Shutterstock

 

Vibrant Downtown

Ann Arbor’s downtown area is similar to most college towns in that it caters to a diverse, intellectual, and young community. Strolling through the city, visitors will discover unique boutiques, vintage shops, and on Saturdays in the summer, the locally famous Ann Arbor Farmers Market. At the Farmers Market shoppers can find the freshest local produce and handmade crafts.

 

Where to Eat In Ann Arbor With Kids

The Ann Arbor Art Fair will have plenty of food trucks and street food vendors, but families should know that Ann Arbor is a foodie’s paradise. The following restaurants are three of our favorite reasons to visit the city, art fair or not. 

 

food trucks at Ann Arbor

There will be enough food trucks at the art fair that visitors will not ever need to step into a restaurant, but they should! Ann Arbor has so many great restaurants. ©Shutterstock

 

Zingerman’s Deli

A local legend, Zingerman’s offers an incredible selection of sandwiches, salads, and baked goods. My personal favorite is the #2 Zingerman’s Reuben, piled high with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on rye bread. The kids love their mac and cheese, which is creamy and delicious.

 

Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor

Zingerman’s is a local favorite! ©Shutterstock

 

The Lunch Room

For a more casual, plant-based option, The Lunch Room is a fantastic choice. They serve up tasty vegan dishes like BBQ jackfruit sandwiches and hearty grain bowls. Their homemade desserts, especially the brownies, are a big hit with the whole family.

 

Mani Osteria & Bar

If your family enjoys Italian food, Mani Osteria & Bar is a must-visit. They offer wood-fired pizzas, pasta dishes, and small plates that are perfect for sharing. The Margherita pizza is simple yet delicious, and the kids couldn’t get enough of the crispy calamari.

 

When You Go

 

 

Getting To Ann Arbor From Los Angeles

The most convenient option is to fly into Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), which is about 25 miles from Ann Arbor. Spirit and Delta offer several direct flights from LAX to DTW which take about four and a half hours. Once you land, you can rent a car or take a shuttle service to Ann Arbor. It’s easy to get around Ann Arbor on foot or by bike, so a car isn’t necessary unless the family wants to take a short drive to Detroit to catch a Tigers game.

 

Where to Stay In Ann Arbor

Graduate Ann Arbor

Located just steps from the University of Michigan campus, Graduate Ann Arbor offers a unique, college-themed experience. The rooms are cozy and stylish, and the hotel has amenities like complimentary bike rentals, perfect for exploring this bike-friendly city.

 

Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest

The Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest is a great mid-price range option. Set outside the city center, it offers a peaceful retreat with beautiful views of Ford Lake. The Ann Arbor Marriott features an indoor pool and a golf course. The spacious rooms and friendly staff make it a great choice for families.

 

Holiday Inn Express, Ann Arbor

For a more budget-friendly option, the Holiday Inn Express provides comfortable accommodations with convenient amenities like a complimentary breakfast and an indoor pool. It’s located near shopping centers and is a short drive from the Ann Arbor Art Fair.

 

a room at The Graduate in Ann Arbor

It’s always fun to stay at The Graduate in Ann Arbor, except if you are from Ohio. (IYKYK) ©The Graduate

 

This art fair features interactive art experiences, live performances, and delicious food. It’s a wonderful reason to visit one of our country’s most beautiful college towns.

 

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Ann Arbor Art Fair

 

Steffy McCourt is a mom to three active and awesome boys, two budgies, one cockatiel, and a mischievous corgi. Currently an ELA Teacher in Plymouth, Michigan, she also writes for parenting magazines and education websites. She just recently launched her own travel website, www.mifamilytravel.com; a tribute to the state of Michigan. She has an MS in Educational Leadership from Butler University and a BA in English from Indiana University.