Artist's passion evolves into booming business with Amdur Productions' summer art festivals
Dreamy landscapes, provocative portraits and funky sculptures beguile the eye, jazz music adds a rhythm, and savory aromas tempt us.
Nothing says summer like a relaxed stroll through an art festival.
But your brief cultural escape is serious business for the professionals at Amdur Productions Inc., who plan 2023's art festivals during the 2022 season.
On any given Sunday, "we're assessing, 'Is the layout working? Are there problems? Are there pinchpoints?'" explained CEO Amy Amdur.
The Highland Park-based company produces prestigious art shows across Chicago and the suburbs, as well as the Milwaukee area.
This year's palette comprises 22 events including the Barrington Art Festival this weekend, the Deer Park Art Festival June 25 and 26, Art in the Glen in Glenview July 30 and 31, and the Wheaton Art Walk Aug. 6 and 7.
Selecting summer show entrants begins the previous fall. Artists submit images of their work and booth setups, which are reviewed and scored by a jury that includes art educators, gallery owners and award-winning professionals.
Criteria ranges from technical expertise such as brush strokes to originality and presentation.
If there's a tie, "I break ties -- the buck stops with me," Amdur says. "I look for a strong body of work and I look for presentation. It's fundamentally about having great work -- but great work has to be shown well."
Amdur aims to showcase myriad national and local artists as well as a multitude of mediums at shows. For example. Art in the Glen will feature "up-and-coming" painter Marco Bustillos, furniture maker Nino Haro and black-and-white photographer Seung Jae Kim, Amdur said.
She works with newbie exhibitors to ensure an auspicious debut, from offering advice on a booth layout that pops to coaching introverted artists on chatting with customers.
The majority of Amdur Productions' events offer free admission, so how does the company make money? "The host organization is paying a production fee that varies. The artists pay for their space and we have sponsorships," Amdur explained.
But "there's a very long list of expenses." Those include labor, marketing and printing plus show infrastructure from electricity to portable toilets to musicians.
For each festival, Amdur considers "what vibe do we want?" and tailors the music, activities and refreshment vendors to the expected demographic.
In the off-season, work hours are a traditional Monday to Friday lineup. Come show time, staff can work 30-hour weekends, arriving at 4 a.m. for setup on a Saturday and working late Sunday for takedown.
Weather adds another business challenge.
"We just deal with it. I've done shows where we passed out coffee to artists to keep their hands warm and shows where we passed out ice bags," Amdur explained.
"There's been shows in wind and shows in hail. My perfect day is 75 degrees and no wind."
With COVID-19, Amdur Productions' busy schedule shrank to eight festivals in 2020 but ramped up in 2021. This year brings some intriguing takes on the pandemic.
"Art reflects society," Amdur said. "We've all been through a heck of a time during COVID and a lot of the artists used art as a way to soothe the soul."
For the 2022 show experience, "there's a return to landscapes, a lot of luscious color, and more serenity in the art."
Also, "there's a lot of wood coming in, interesting tables and chairs and sculptural art pieces."
Art shows have an economic ripple effect, experts said, that benefits local restaurants and shops.
"It brings people into your community who not only experience art but become more aware of the offerings available in the downtown area," noted Peggy Blanchard, economic development consultant with the village of Algonquin, where Amdur Productions will bring Art on the Fox on Sept. 10 and 11.
Amdur, an artist, founded the company over 35 years ago. The Northwestern University graduate who has studied at the School of the Art Institute entered her first art show at age 5.
Now it's a passion and a profession. "I consider it my art, making these shows," she said. "I'm hoping to bring joy to people."
• To learn more about upcoming art shows and preview artists, go to amdurproductions.com.