It’s Sept. 26. You’re walking in what feels like a river full of people. The weather is nice this time of year at a balmy 79 degrees. When you look over rows of sun hats and happily-chatting attendees, you can see a live band playing from their stage. Stands of gold-plated jewelry glint in the sunlight and towering silver sculptures sway ever so slightly with the wind.
While you’re watching children running around, munching on cherry snow cones, dogs happily romping alongside their owners with bags in hand, it’s hard to imagine we are collectively enduring a pandemic for almost two years. But COVID-19 left an impact on many aspects of daily life and culture — and the arts are no exception.
2021 marks the 63rd annual Art Fair on the Square, organized by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. This event, which usually takes place in July each year, was rescheduled to September. The return of the in-person fair was a welcome change from the previous year’s Art Fair on the Square, which took place virtually.
Over 500 artists selected by a jury of individuals with experience in the fine arts and sales were present at the art fair this year, consisting of newly selected artists and artists from the virtual fair last year, who were re-invited for the in-person festivities this fall.
The event, taking place on both Sept. 25 and 26, featured art of many different mediums as well as live music, food carts and eats from several local restaurants.
Besides bringing the local and national artistic communities together for a weekend, the Art Fair on the Square is also MMoCA’s biggest annual fundraiser, which ensures they can provide visitors with free admission, have new exhibits and continue their educational programming. MMoCA hosted a silent auction, as well as provided merchandise featuring work by the Featured Artist, Anastasia Mak.
MMoCA’s Director of Communications Marni McEntee said a major part of art fairs are about connecting with the artists and their works with an intimacy you simply cannot achieve online. They described a beautiful print they had purchased, where the artist was inspired by the landscape and mountains in Aspen, Colorado.
Artists have had to adjust in many different ways throughout the pandemic. For Hardwood Creations, a family-run woodworking business from Davis, California, a majority of their sales come from art fairs such as this one. They said they mainly participated in virtual fairs throughout the past year to display their art.
T.L. Luke, a Madison-based digital artist, said she missed the face-to-face interactions she had with customers and the inspiration that came with it. She had shifted to commissions during the pandemic. Her art is inspired by moments of her childhood, while incorporating dystopian themes. Many of her pieces feature girls and feminine people having fun in perilous adventures, to contrast the message of weakness too often associated with femininity.
Shawn Bungo is a glasswork artist from Ypsilanti, Michigan. During the pandemic, he engaged with his community by creating an art trade gallery. Much like a little free library, he would display his art and receive other pieces from neighbors and community members. His artwork features many aquatic themes, such as iridescent jellyfish with spindling legs encased in glass and spans of multicolored coral reefs.
Bungo said his art since moving to Michigan has been inspired by the wildlife there, his new artworks incorporating lamps and glass pieces with glass butterflies and lifelike birds.
Another group of artists present were the Madison Weavers Guild. Their stand consisted of works by multiple members, involving many distinct styles and techniques unique to the makers. Rows of vibrant, multicolored scarves hung from a wall within the stand, as well as hand woven garments and textured tea towels.
The group, which consists of over 70 members with an interest in textiles, host workshops and other exhibitions around the Madison area. In order to keep up with their art form, the group met over Zoom throughout the pandemic.
For many attendees, it was a way to learn about local and traveling artists to know where their art was coming from. For artists, it was a way to display their inspirations and passions to many. For everyone involved, it was a way to connect in a way that we have all been craving for the past two years — and it was undoubtedly healing.