Artists at Work: Celebration of Fine Art returns with high ambitions

By Alex Gallagher

After seeing record sales of art last year, the Celebration of Fine Art has returned for its 32nd year with high energy and hopes for continued success. 

Located off of Loop 101 and Hayden Road, 40,000 square feet of tents comprise home to 100 artists who have covered just about every inch of wall space with art and converted their slice of the space into their own studios where guests and buyers can get an inside look into the artist’s creative process. 

“It’s different than a gallery setting where we would put the art in the gallery and be void of the clients,” says Kirk Randle, one of the few artists who has displayed at every Celebration of Fine Art over the past three decades. “I have developed relationships and a client base over 32 years of doing this, and that’s how this has come together.” 

While those who have been with the celebration since its inception admit it was a crazy idea at first, it has turned into an event that artists circle on their calendars every year. 

“I have been involved since the beginning, and back then everyone thought it was a crazy idea to put a tent in the middle of the desert and put artists and collectors together,” says Susan Morrow Potje, the show director of the Celebration of Fine Art and daughter of the show’s founder, Tom Morrow.

“But it’s turned into an amazing experience where people can stand at the elbow of the artists while they’re creating their work,” she says. 

Although the show has remained steady in its space size, Potje has noticed a demand for larger pieces in the years she has been involved. 

“We haven’t grown in size as we have stayed at 40,000 square feet of exhibit space and 100 artists, but what’s grown over the years has been the quality of art in every aspect,” Potje says.

“It used to be really simple where each artist had two 8-foot-by-12-foot walls. … We learned over time that display is important, and the size of paintings has substantially grown as bigger homes were built here.” 

“A lot of these artists sell almost as much art as they create in a year at this show,” Potje says. “It’s a great choice for artists to be here financially. The weather is also great, and there’s such a sense of community. A lot of our artists have compared this to art camp only with the public there to buy and support it.” 

Because of this, the artists are able to translate their enthusiasm to potential buyers and give a sneak peek into their creative process — which also happens to be a great sales tool. 

“My biggest selling tool is sitting there painting while people watch me do what I do,” Randle said. “That makes it personal, as people can see the person creating the art.” 

Not only has this technique attracted buyers, but it has also drawn the attention of artists like Erin Matlock, who is displaying her art for the first time at the Celebration of Fine Art this year. 

“For me, it’s watching the progression of the artists and to see how their work changes and evolves over the years,” Matlock said. “To me, the growth of that spirit of art is interesting to me.” 

Other artists were sold on the opportunity to create a bond with the guests who walk through the spaces. 

“One of the reasons why I won’t do other tent shows is because by the time you set up, you don’t get the chance to paint or talk with the collectors or viewers like you do here,” says Priscilla Nelson, who has been showing her art at the Celebration the past four years.

“It is fun, educational and the people coming through here learn a lot about what they like and the variety.”

While Potje tries to create a show with good spirits, she also tries to keep the show diverse.

“Each year at the end of the season, any artist who is in the show and wishes to come back submits an application and goes through the jury process,” she says.

“We look at the quality of work, sales, ability to play well with others and provide an artistic balance. However, we try to have at least 15 new spaces available each year for new artists to come in.” 

However, Potje admits this is a hard task at times. 

“It does get harder to eliminate, because we have so many high-quality artists,” she says. “But having the new art is exciting for our collectors who come back year after year.” 

Potje also believes that the show’s educational component has become a draw for guests, especially in the past two years. 

“One thing we’re also proud of is how much education we have provided the community through our website, podcast and art discovery series we host every Friday at 4 p.m. during our season in our cafe,” she says.

“People can walk through and talk to the artists to get different perspectives on art all day, but we thought it would be fun to put together an organized method to pick topics. We felt this would be more formal and it would build the educational platform.” 

In addition to being drawn to the educational component, there is a sense of longing among the guests who are eager to experience the arts once more. 

“I feel like this is an escape,” Matlock says. “We all have been through quite a bit, so if someone can leave all of that behind and be completely immersed in art, that’s a therapeutic experience and the celebration of art for me.” 

“We’re hardwired as human beings to appreciate beauty, and most of what we experience here is art that will take you back to a memory or inspire a creative thought process,” Potje says. 

There appears to be a consensus among artists and Potje that the show has picked up right where it left off in 2021. 

“As events and festivals have picked back up, artists are having their best years ever, and 2021 was our highest year of sales ever,” Potje says.

“If it continues like this, it could be a banner year,” Randle adds. 

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