The Birmingham City Commission has approved the final site plans for 2011’s downtown art festivals, the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s 30th annual Art Birmingham and Common Ground’s 37th annual Street Art Fair.
Art Birmingham will be held May 14-15 in Shain Park and the surrounding streets, while Common Ground’s Street Art Fair will be held Sept. 24-25 on South Old Woodward Avenue. Both festivals are in partnership with the Guild of Artists and Artisans.
The City Commission postponed the original request from both the Art Center and Common Ground at its Sept. 27 meeting, asking both groups and the Guild of Artists and Artisans to return to with alternate layouts. Originally, plans called for both art fairs to be held on South Old Woodward, where they were held in 2010 due to construction in Shain Park. Commissioner Tom McDaniel asked whether one or both events could be moved back to Shain Park.
At the Nov. 4 meeting of the Principal Shopping District (PSD), board members debated the best place to hold the art fairs, especially after retailers along South Old Woodward claimed that both festivals cut down on their foot traffic. Retailers also complained that with the festival booths lining the streets and facing inward, foot traffic was directed away from storefronts.
The PSD ultimately recommended that Art Birmingham be held in Shain Park, while the Birmingham Street Art Fair be held on South Old Woodward with the stipulation that booths line the center of the street and face outward.
After revising their layouts and discussing plans with the fire marshal, both groups presented their finals plans to commissioners, who were in favor of the plans, though with some reservations.
McDaniel reminded art festival organizers of complaints from last year about sponsors that seemed out of place, specifically companies that sold home-improvement products such as gutters and storm windows.
Guild President Max Clayton said there were no new sponsors last year, and she said that most of those whom the public and commissioners objected to have been sponsoring the art festivals for 10 years. It was merely the grouping of certain sponsors that made their presence seem out of place, Clayton said.
“I think what you saw (last year) was they were a little more prominent because of their locations,” Clayton said.
She also said festival organizers were approaching many of the same sponsors—including those who sell gutters and storm windows—this year.
Resident Dorothy Conrad still wasn’t happy about the presence of those sponsors.
“I object to storm windows, to gutters … being part of this presentation,” she said. “I don’t think that should be part of the art fair.”
The same concern was raised concerning Common Ground’s Street Art Fair, though the chief concern there was the layout of booths. Though the booths will be facing outward this year, PSD Executive Director John Heiney said many retailers along South Old Woodward still believe the art festival’s presence will cut into their foot traffic.
“It’s reasonable to assume you’ll have the same concerns among those merchants,” Heiney said.
The city has plans for three events that will close Old Woodward this year, including the Street Art Festival, the Dream Cruise and the PSD’s Day on the Town on July 23. Mike Ceresnie, owner of Ceresnie and Offen Furs, said many Old Woodward retailers were concerned with how early the streets were closed the Friday before the festivals, but he added that festival organizers have addressed many of their issues.
Richard Grinstein of Grinstein Jewelers and Design agreed: “We really appreciate the spirit of compromise.”
Commissioner Rackeline Hoff said that while she agrees with the organizers’ plans, layouts should be approved on a trial basis, with the commission returning after the festivals to discuss whether the new layouts worked.