St. James Art Fair

The first full weekend in October each year means more to Louisville home owners than just beautiful fall weather and amazing color in the turning leaves. Derby City becomes an artistic Mecca annually this time of year when thousands flock to the St. James Art Fair to experience the vitality of today’s art against the backdrop of Old Louisville’s beauty and charm. What began as a small street fair is now an event that has put Louisville on the map with first-class artists and craftspeople across the nation. A look at the how this juried event has developed over the years provides a glimpse into Louisville’s love of the arts, capacity for growth and spirit of innovation.

Now that it’s in its 56th year and has become one of the most highly anticipated art fairs anywhere around, it can be hard to believe its humble beginnings. Known today as one of the premiere addresses in Louisville for its history and stately Victorian homes, St. James Court struggled financially back in 1957. With no money in the bank and heaping debt due to costly repairs to the St. James Fountain, the St. James Court Association had to come up with some way to pay the bills. The association president at that time, Malcolm Bird, thought an art fair might be just the remedy and could be a fun way to bring area residents together as well. So on Oct. 12, 1957, the St. James Court Art Fair was born.

In its first year, the focus was on art alone, and works were actually hung on clotheslines between trees as part of the exhibit. In the early years, music was also added, and the annual art fair became a time to honor notable homes and residents as well. By 1967, Mr. Bird’s last year as the chairman of the event, attendance reached 40,000. For the next 25 years, under the leadership of Ann Higbie and Oscar Stremmel, the annual event grew from 200 to roughly 600 exhibitors and included Belgravia Court as well as St. James. Over the next decade, new portions of the show developed to include Fountain Court, Third Street and Fourth Street with each of these areas providing distinctive exhibits particular to their own neighborhoods.

Further growth led by energetic leadership continued in the 90s. Soon, the program was created by Louisville Magazine, and the annual poster contest captured a lot of attention. Now directed by Margue Esrock, the fair involves nearly 750 exhibitors and welcomes over 300,000 guests. And this year, over $23,000 in college scholarships will be awarded to high school seniors interested in pursuing the study of art. Not surprisingly, the St. James Art Fair has been voted the best art show in the entire nation in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010.

The St. James Art Fair is Oct. 5-7 and admission is free. It’s open on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Look for us if you go. We wouldn’t miss it!

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