Art Me Up

Get set for the St. Louis Art Fair

Sep 11, 2002 at 4:00 am
It's an art in itself to find a parking space in Clayton. But that's not a form you'll need to finesse this weekend at the 2002 St. Louis Art Fair.

Organizers promise six garages of free parking and assure us that the meters on the streets will be turned off for the duration. All the better to put you in place for ten city blocks of paint, paper, clay, glass, wood, music, metal and the creative spirit that makes the St. Louis event one of the most celebrated art shows in the country.

If you're thinking "craft" (read: crap) show, this event seeks to clean your canvas.

"We're a different animal," says Cynthia A. Prost, president and executive director of the fair. "We're a fine art show. This is museum- and gallery-quality fine art. We do have fine craft as well. But it's not the typical craft show -- it's just a little different. Not to say that one's better than another, but this is where you can really buy fine, original works of art directly from the artists."

The artists hail from most of the United States, as well as Argentina, Canada and England, with talent from Missouri and Illinois well represented. They apply for invitations in February, each submitting an application form along with four slides depicting his or her work and one slide of the booth display. At the end of April, a team of three independent jurors examines the submissions in each of fourteen disciplines.

"We keep it at about 165 artists a year," Prost says. "We're a relatively small show when you compare us to some of the other shows across the country. But, for us, it's quality-driven -- 165 fits our streetscape, and it allows us to really choose the best of the best. This year, we had over 1,600 artists apply for 140 spaces. The jurors, who are experts, looked at, gosh, 12,000 slides. It takes three days to make the selections."

That discriminating eye has won the St. Louis show numerous notices in the art world for its quality of presentation. The artists themselves rank the fair highly for its generosity and attention to detail.

"We have one of the highest cash-prize awards," Prost says. "We'll award about $22,000 in cash prizes. Plus, we take care of the artists all weekend, providing free meals for the artists. We have booth sitters to come and sit in their booths and give them a break. We usually rank number one or two in hospitality (by art publications and industry organizations). Last year we were ranked high in security and site layout. And the artists find the people who attend the show to be very knowledgeable and interested in the arts. We rank high in the sales of the artists' work. We just got a recent ranking that put our sales at $17 million for last year's show. So the artists know if they come here, they'll sell their work."

And the public should know that if they come, they'll get eye candy, live music and theater from within and without St. Louis, art-making for kids and adults, and gourmet concessions.