Here is something to think about while we wait out the melting of stubborn snow piles and arrival of temperatures we actually associate with the season we’re in – spring – which, officially and surprisingly at this point, began more than three weeks ago. It’s a warm T-shirt and shorts Friday evening in downtown Antigonish and you’re – swayed by the sounds of lively music and aroma of freshly cooked dishes – joining the already large and enthusiastic crowd gathered in picturesque Chisholm Park for another Antigonish Art Fair.
A new season of art fairs in the park begin Friday, June 23, and go for another four occasions, on a bi-weekly basis; July 7, July 21, Aug. 4 and Aug. 18. All on Fridays and all from 6 to 9 p.m., at Chisholm Park, unless rain forces the fair indoors.
“They’re going great,” Ryan Finn, a student on a work-term with the fair, said.
“We’re getting a lot of artists coming in and registering for the event. We’re getting our music line-up done and we’re in the midst of selecting our featured artists right now.”
Finn noted they’re looking at a few additions to the fairs this year, including a presence from L’Arche Antigonish.
“They’re coming down and doing a community tent; they’re selling art and they’re also performing,” he said.
Event co-ordinator Mike MacEachern said they’re always on the lookout for more artists, artisans and musicians.
“Right now, it’s just about getting everyone together and figuring out what the events are going to be looking like,” MacEachern said.
Finn noted the best way for someone to contact them to get involved is by visiting the fair’s website – antigonishartfair.ca.
“There are registration forms on there which go straight to us, we’re in contact pretty quick,” he said.
In talking about last year’s fairs, its third season after starting in the summer of 2014, MacEachern said it was an “excellent” season.
“Every event had about a 20 per cent increase, so we were able to grow throughout the summer and we had more artists interested at the end of the summer than the beginning, so the whole culture of it grew,” he said.
Finn added the growth in numbers also meant a growth in the quality of what was being offered at each fair.
“We have many established artists participating already but we also wanted to draw new artists into it,” he said, adding the relationship between the established and new artists becoming one of mentorship.
“We see the fair as a relationship building [environment] for artists as well,” he said. “Because it brings them together and gives them similar experiences … just the opportunity to communicate.”
He also talked about a mandate for the fairs, which is bringing people downtown so they will, hopefully, expand their stroll from Chisholm Park to explore more of Main Street.
“Bring more activity to Main Street, Antigonish; if that’s economic or social, it’s activity … we would like both,” he said.
MacEachern talked about the fairs helping to establish Antigonish as a cultural and artistic hub for northern Nova Scotia, and beyond.
“And when people come, it’s set up for people to stay,” he said.
“There is food, music; so people generally stay the three hours the fair goes on.
“Sometimes, when a person comes at the beginning, they may look at a piece of art and then, a half an hour later, might decide they really like it and end up buying it. Keeping people around, it allows them to think about what they have seen and make decisions on site, rather than just coming and going.”
Finn talked about expanding beyond the fairs a little bit and holding other events such as last fall’s successful Harvest Halloween Bash and a planned event to coincide with St. F.X. spring convocation next month.
“We’ll have almost 2,000 parents in town for it so, we decided, to create what we’re calling A Piece of Antigonish,” he said. “What that is; it’s an art gallery all along Main Street, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 6, the Saturday. Our hope is to attract the parents off the university campus and to Main Street to help out our businesses economically and socially. And our artists economically by giving them an opportunity to sell to tourists … bring in new money to Antigonish, money from outside the area.”
Both men praised the sponsorship and government assistance the fairs have received over the last number of years.
“Without our sponsors or support of our local government this event would not be possible,” Finn said.
“Yes we’re sustainable and we have been able to grow it, but without that support, that continued support, we certainly wouldn’t be able to.”