(WSB file photo)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
This weekend’s Alki Art Fair is more than a once-a-year event: It’s the festival’s 20th anniversary.
“Come to the beach and help us celebrate!” is your invitation from Giovannina Souers, during our conversation today about the AAF’s milestone. She’s the president of the Alki Art Fair board, and has been involved from the start.
In 1997, she had a pottery studio elsewhere in West Seattle, when a painter from the Alki Bathhouse “came in and said, ‘we’re thinking about having an arts event on the beach, and looking for artists – we want it to be interactive.’ … So I grabbed a couple wheels, and some students, and went down, did a few demonstrations and sold our things.” She says it was “informal,” maybe about 15 different artists/booths, demonstration-based, “the artists were there, doing and selling their art on the beach.”
The next year, she was hired to create a pottery studio at the Bathhouse, and helped put on the art fair the next few years. “We kind of grew it and turned it into more of a fair to sell work, and fun kids’ activities … it just kind of grew from there.”
One major growth point was when music was added after a few years, in the early 2000s.
Giovannina says the original music programmer went on to create the Alki Music Festival, which lasted for a few years last decade. The Alki Art Fair moved on to booking its own lineup.
The biggest change along the way was in 2010, when the city stopped presenting the fair because of major budget cuts to Alki Community Center, so the artists decided to form a nonprofit and continue it. “I was a city employee running the Art Fair before that,” Giovannina recalled, and then she became an artist running it. Frances Gifford, a pottery student of hers, also got involved in running the AAF and has become the organization’s only paid employee.
What’s the best-kept secret about the Alki Art Fair? we asked.
She listed several – that it’s “grown over the years and become more professional” in a variety of ways, and that it’s “really very affordable – we try hard to keep the booth prices low so that beginning artists can participate.”
For example, Giovannina herself is “sharing a booth this year with two friends of mine who have recently retired and have taken up glass fusing and woodwork and haven’t sold their pieces before. … We’re really accessible. … We want it to be a community event.” That includes art activities for kids, too.
She most loves the festival because it’s “on the water, in a beautiful environment. I’m an outdoors person – hiking, kayaking, scuba diving – and the fact that it’s on the water, on the beach, and you’re looking across the water to the beautiful Olympic Mountains, and there’s art” – that brings together two of her great loves. (In her “day job,” she runs Discovery Park Environmental Center on the other side of the bay.) “When I go and see all the artists, people comment that ‘it’s the most beautiful fair I’ve been to.”
This weekend will have some extra-special features. For one – a very low tide (below -3 feet both days), which brings extra interest to beach-walking.
For two, the 20th anniversary celebration will be centered in the Bathhouse, where you can see an exhibit of Alki Art Fair history, including photos from over the years and photos of the T-shirts that have been annual highlights – new designs every year!
You’ll also want to go into the Bathhouse to bid in the silent auctions – “that helps us raise funds to keep the booth prices low.” Bids will close twice each day, at 1 pm and 4 pm. The items are donated by artists participating in the fair, and “some other community organizations,” Giovannina explains.
So here’s what you need to know to go be part of the Alki Art Fair’s 20th-anniversary celebration (with this year’s co-sponsors including WSB):
WHERE TO FIND IT: Along the Alki Beach Park boardwalk, mostly west of and inside Alki Bathhouse (60th SW/Alki SW)
FAIR HOURS: 10 am-6 pm both days (music until 9 pm Saturday)
MUSIC LINEUP: See it here
HOW TO GET THERE: Free shuttle bus from park ‘n’ ride area under the West Seattle Bridge by Harbor/Spokane/Avalon – Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm