With everything that Arts, Beats & Eats festival has to offer — music from acts as diverse as Third Eye Blind and the Village People, food from more than 40 local vendors — it's easy to forget about the first part of the equation: the art. Lisa Konikow knows a thing or two about the fest's artistic offerings, as she's served as the festival's art director since its inception 17 years ago.
How'd she get the gig? Konikow ran Xochipilli Art Gallery in Birmingham for 14 years. "Now it's kind of a tchotchke street — but high end, tchotchke, though!" she says. "But we represented Jerome Feretti, Stephen Goodfellow — a lot of the Cass Corridor artists. I don't like to use the word 'stable,' but had this really nice group. Anybody can call themselves a gallery. We were a real gallery!"
Konikow says in recent years the gallery activity has been moving back south to Ferndale and Detroit. "There's a change in the air," she says. "It's like out of the ashes comes a lot of cultural activity."
But Konikow adds that an important part about Arts, Beats & Eats are the national and international artists that the festival brings in each year. This year's lineup features plenty of Michigan artists, but also artists from all across the U.S. as well as Canada and Mexico.
Asked about how the festival chooses the participating artists, Konikow explains that It's a juried show. She says she hires a panel of judges composed of art administrators, artists, arts people from around the city, gallery people, museum people, other art fair artists. She says the panel judges between 400 and 500 applicants every year, and only around 100 get in, with around 60 returning each year. "I do have some say, but I want to honor the jury," Konikow says, and adds she takes pride in the festival's consistent diversity of artists.
Konikow says that she picks different people for the jury every year, but she won't say exactly who to protect the jury from backlash (we at MT know how dramatic artists can be). Once the show is up, a separate street jury is assembled to take stock of the booths and award more than $7,500 in cash prizes across 16 categories.
"We have ribbons, like a 'Spirit of the City' award," she says. "Detroit is such a spirit city." The festival even awards a "Golden Dolly" award to the artists' assistants. ("That goes to the best schlepper, the person who supported the artist for all these years by carrying and lifting," she says.) Awards are presented at a breakfast ceremony on Sunday. The final Day of the festival is Monday, but the extra day gives the artists a chance to display their ribbons.
The camaraderie and friendly rivalry, Konikow says, is what makes the festival really special. "These people come from all around the country, and they make a little village," Konikow says. "We're not just an art fair, we're a festival of food and music and art. The pressures of the festival — the loudness, the intense crowds, make it easier to bring in a lot of people but harder for art sales, because there's such a crush of people." Nevertheless, Konikow notes that the festival remains consistently highly rated out of thousands of art festivals across the country.
"They become kind of a small family. They're there to make money, but they become kind of an entity of their own," she says. "It's part of the festival, but it's separate from the festival. I wouldn't want you to write that we're a schizophrenic festival, but it's really fascinating to me that it works." — mt
Arts, Beats & Eats is 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 29-Sunday, Aug. 31 and 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 1; downtown Royal Oak; 248-541-7550; artsbeatseats.com