Life As An Itinerant Artist

Stories and anecdotes from fifteen years on the art show circuit. 

Arts, Beats & Eats – Pontiac, MI 2008

Arts, Beats & Eats is a massive affair, with probably the largest crowd attending an arts event in the country. It encompasses several music stages, three city blocks of food booths from around the metro Detroit area, and a high quality art show at the upper end of Saginaw St. It draws almost a million people to downtown Pontiac every year on Labor Day weekend, to party, to listen and to be entertained.

We had a great time, even though the show hours are grueling. Setup is Friday morning, and the show starts at 5PM. People start filtering in around 4, and Friday the art fair closes at 9:30. Free electrical hookups for all make it a magical show after dark, when all the booths light up. I love the way our work looks under artificial light — it shows to best advantage, just as it would in a home. Saturday and Sunday, the show runs from 11AM-9PM, and on Labor Day, finally closes down at 5. But the music and food party continues until 11PM, and it is a party. A loud party.

We had great neighbors, too — Larry Humphrey, veteran photographer from Florida, was two booths down. Keui and Richard Dorman were displaying Keui’s lovely watercolor originals. C.C. Lee and his wife Shu Ping brought ceramic originals and Antoni Kozlowski dispayed his exquisite amber jewelry collection. Lee kept us entertained by breaking into operatic voice while opening his booth in the morning — he can sing Verde or Wagner! And photographers Steven Daniel and John Hartung were there, Steven with Jasper, the cutest show kitten you’ll ever see.

But it’s a tough crowd. Most of the masses streaming by the artists booths are there for the party, not the art. Many people don’t want to carry art around with them, so larger work doesn’t do well here. The heat was stifling this year, in the 90’s most of the show, and the sun beat mercilessly into my booth from about 4PM until 7:30. The neighborhood is rough, too, and there are the occasional homeless drifters to deal with. Sales were slim for many artists.

Connie Mettler and Lisa Konikoff do an amazing job of keeping things running smoothly, zipping around in their golf carts until the crowds get too big. Connie writes about her experiences as a show director on her own blog at There are lots of volunteers, too. While they ran out of eggs at the artist breakfast on Sunday, the awards presentation was unique. Connie & Lisa presented the “Golden Dolly” award to Donna Beaubien’s husband Bill for his untiring assistance with her booth set-up and tear-down.

The artwork is well-juried and top-notch quality. The show itself is small, only about 125 artists. There is virtually no junk in this show, so if you are looking for a unique gift or something special for your home, it’s worth attending just for that reason. You can avoid the mayhem down near the Phoenix center and just zip in and out of the show at the north end of Saginaw St. Rumor has it that the show may move to Novi next year because of the logistic hassles surrounding Pontiac. It would be a shame, because Pontiac is a unique urban setting, perfect for the edgy work that is being displayed there. Watch this space.

September 8, 2008

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  1. Hi Jim,

    Just discovered this post of yours. I think it is a very fair evaluation of the event. You have caught what we are trying to do here–keep it small to maximize the sales of our artists. Make set up and the takedown as easy as possible for the artists and make it easy for patrons to get in and out also. Sure wish the Michigan economy would give us all a break.
    Thanks for bringing your fine work to Pontiac this year. Good luck with the rest of your shows.

  2. September shows were better than I expected in Michigan. The latest economic turmoil and the upcoming election does not bode well for discretionary spending, but I’ve been surprised before. I’ll wait and see.

  3. Have a lot of great memories out there !

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