The People’s Fair is back

And it’s on Elk Avenue!

[  By Dawne Belloise  ]

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, the Paragon Gallery’s much beloved People’s Fair is hitting the streets again Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., August 3 and 4. Held in the middle of Elk Avenue, the non-juried arts and crafts festival helps local and regional Colorado artists showcase their work. The revived fair will feature live music, food venders and the much-anticipated Dog Show with costumes (of course) and competitions for canines, hosted by Oh-Be-Dogful Rescue. On Sunday, there’s the Farmers Market as well. There’ll also be the traditional Labor Day sidewalk sales held by the local stores. 

The People’s Fair is truly a local event that began in the auspicious year of 1984, but its roots go back much further to the first arts fair in 1971. For most, that inaugural fair back in the early ‘70s was a pleasant, sunny dusty-day blur wrapped up in a cloud of music, incense and other entrancing smoke. It was the year of harmonious flow and the beginning of unstructured Crested Butte art fairs. It was CB unplugged and tuned into the needs of the people and local artists, those newly relocated hippies. 

Susan Anderton, one of the original artists in town and a member of Paragon Gallery, had a booth in the very first art fair in ‘71. “We had a silk screen printing business in the Company Store (now Secret Stash Pizza) called Empire Tunnel Graphics, named after an old mine, with original prints and posters of my work.” 

Back then, less planning and more free form was the norm. “It wasn’t like you had a formal committee that got together and decided to do something…it just happened. People just got together,” she says.

Susan laughed about the choice of using Army Tents for the arts fair in 1972. “It seemed sort of dark, it wasn’t the ideal situation. You had to creep into them.” 

Back in the day, dogs were, per capita, as abundant as they are now but without the leash law. “The dogs would urinate on my box of prints,” she laughs and notes however, that the current fair’s featured Oh-Be-Joyful Rescue’s Dog Show on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. is much loved. “People were so supportive and enthusiastic. I had some of the best times. I remember thinking I can’t believe I’m hearing all this great music in Crested Butte. We were young then, and so enthusiastic. It was magical.”

But as the fair grew, some felt the art needed to be juried, so by the late 1970s, the original arts fair became more structured, juried and selective. Many of the local artists were excluded, which inspired the Paragon Gallery of local artists to create a fair that was more conducive and empathetic to local artists. Today, the People’s Fair is the closest evolution of the original 1971 arts fair, with local and regional artists selling very affordable creations in the two-day affair and with no cover charge to patrons, locals and tourists. Now in its 36th year, the event has more than 55 booths this year and occupies Elk Avenue from Second to Fourth Streets. 

Back in 1984, when it diverged from the arts fair, the People’s Fair was located next to the Art Center with just a few tables and locals displaying their work for sale, but the funky fair grew quickly to a much larger street fair and in pre-COVID 2019, it had expanded to 70 booths and a long waiting list of artists wanting to sell their crafts. The booth sign-up for artists, which happens in the spring, has always filled up quickly, and usually by word of mouth, because it’s become a fair that people want to be part of.

Many artists and patrons thought the People’s Fair was no longer since the event had been COVID-absent for two years but Susan Anderton feels that by next year, the word will be out that the fair has returned and it will see its full 80-booth capacity lining Elk Avenue.

This year’s People’s Fair is an eclectic mix of arts and crafts ranging from jewelry, soap, essential oils, fine art, leather, wood and metal works to so much more, along with food and music. There are familiar favorite artists returning and many new ones. Long-time Gunnison songstress and performer, Evelyn Roper, has lined up the music for both days which includes Rachel Van Slyke and Sam Heart along with Kris Bloomer, Stefan Scott and of course, Evelyn herself will be onstage with her wonderful repertoire of originals and distinctive cover tunes. There’ll be special guests gracing the stage as well. The stage will be located on Third Street at Elk Avenue.

Food vendors will include everyone’s favorite local hot dog cart run by Logan Uhlenhake, a lemonade stand, beef jerky by the Zesty Moose out of Grand Junction and more, plus, the Sherpa Cafe will have extra tables set up outside for their wonderful Himalayan cuisine.

The Paragon Gallery is a collective co-op of artists pooling their time and creativity to run their own exhibit space on Second Street and Elk, downstairs in the Old Town Hall. Established in 1971 as an artist cooperative, the gallery is ever evolving, with its diverse membership of 14 local artists and two rotating guest artist displays. “All of us Paragon members are very excited to be bringing back the much loved People’s Fair,” says Susan. “People love this fair with its variety and interesting and affordable art.”

You can get more info at Paragon’s website paragonartgallery.com and you can find them on Facebook as well.

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