Artisans take over Mill Avenue

Voila Vintage of West Hills, Calif., showcased its art nouveau prints along with other classic paintings at the Tempe Festival of the Arts on Mill Avenue last weekend. (Photo by Murphy Bannerman)

Artists and craftspeople from around the country invaded Mill Avenue this weekend, selling everything from artsy screen-prints to custom screen doors to crafts for critters to colorful kaleidoscopes at the Tempe Festival of the Arts.

In its 44th year, the festival is the largest and oldest of its kind in the Valley and attracts more than 200,000 people over three days, festival director Kate Hastings said.

“Success for us isn’t just about how many people attend,” she said.  “It’s more about how much art is sold. And over the past few years, we have averaged more than $1.5 million of art sold per year.”

About 400 artists from all 50 states and Canada were chosen from a pool of more than 700 who applied, Hastings said.

Categories included the art of beer- and wine-making, gourmet edibles and crafts, 3-D mixed media collages, sculptures and the art of entertaining, according to the festival’s website.

Hastings said a panel of anonymous judges who are mainstays in the local art community chose the artists based on their submissions of four works of art and a picture of their tent display.

“We have had a curator from the Phoenix Art Museum, several local working studio artists and an arts administrator from a local museum,” Hastings said.

First-time festival artists Vincent and Sharon Antico, a husband and wife sculpting team from Scottsdale, shape driftwood and sand to make abstract animal figures.

The artists said their patrons encouraged them to apply to show their art at the festival.

“We don’t do a lot of shows per year and we pick and choose the best shows,” Vincent said.  “The (Tempe Festival of the Arts) has a great reputation, and we are really happy with the crowds and throngs of people that have seen our art.”

Business freshman Tyler Fleming said he attends the fall festival every year with his family, but this year he took a date.

He said he doesn’t come to see one particular artist, but he enjoys being surprised by the uniqueness of the art and festivities.

“It only comes around once a year, so I really like coming here and seeing all the awesome art that people do,” he said. “You see something made out of wood and you think, ‘I would have never thought of doing that.’”

The festival gives the local economy an $11 million boost and about one-third of the people who attend are from outside the Valley, according to an economic analysis done by festival officials.

“It comes from tax revenues, sales in restaurants and hotels, artists coming in to town and from the public who comes to see the art,” Hastings said.

Leslie Robin, chef and owner of the newly opened Desert Roots Kitchen on Mill Avenue, said her business has benefitted from festival foot traffic.

“(Friday) we were slammed, so we are really happy that the festival is giving us a lot of exposure,” the ASU alumna said.

The Montage Art Studio and Gallery on Mill Avenue planned its grand opening to coincide with the festival, local artist Sonya Will said.

The ASU alumna lives in Tempe and displayed her paintings at the storefront gallery.

“The festival brings us a lot of street traffic, and it’s amazing to have that,” she said. “I’m doing some really good business today.”

Aerospace engineering senior Mike King said he was also on a date with his wife Jillian King, an education graduate student.

The couple returned to the festival this year because they enjoyed themselves last year.

“The beer garden is my favorite spot,” Mike said.  “They have good beer, good art, good music, and it’s really a great time.”


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