This isn’t just any ol’ art fair. This was the first major event on the Pearl Street Mall. And back when it started — 40 years ago — it was one of the few art festivals around.
Today, art fests are common. But still, none of them quite compare with the longstanding, reputable Pearl Street Arts Fest.
This annual downtown event features about 100 highly talented artists from around the country, with a substantial showing (about 40 percent) from Colorado and Boulder creatives, too.
This year, the festival is 10 a.m.-7 p.m. July 21 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 22. It’s celebrating its 40th year. It’s free, all ages, alcohol-free and open to the public.
The Pearl Street Arts Fest specializes in fine art in a variety of forms and styles, from paintings to sculptures to jewelry, from modern to whimsical to traditional.
“We have high-caliber, quality artists,” says Anna Salim, spokesperson with the Downtown Boulder Partnership. “We’re trying to create really nice, very short-term art gallery that happens outside.”
The event started in 1978, the summer after the Pearl Street Mall was dedicated. Over the years, it’s gone by different names: the Art Fair, the Open Arts Fest.
Back when it started, the only major, competing, annual event was the Renaissance Festival, Salim says.
“In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, all these events weren’t a thing. It existed in its own space for a long time,” she says.
It wasn’t even until 1991 that the annual Cherry Creek Arts Festival kicked off. While the Boulder art festival is sometimes compared to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in terms of reputation, it’s not as big or daunting.
The 106 artists in this year’s Pearl Street Arts Fest were chosen by a jury from a pool of about 350 applicants. Each gets a booth to display work for sale.
This year, you’ll find some talented textile fashion artists with beautiful handbags and decorative hats, Salim says.
“There are a lot of different artists this year than in years past,” she says. “It’s the kind of show if you’ve been before, come back; you won’t see all the same things.”
Original pieces range from $35 for some jewelry to more than $10,000 for big sculptures and paintings. If you’re on a budget, look for postcard prints or pick up the commemorative poster for $35.
Check out the artist page for the full list of participating artists and where to find them. Plan your tour using the online map. But don’t get overwhelmed. You can make it through the entire four-block fest, with time spent at each booth, in about two hours.
Boulder artists include photographer Robert Lantz, metal art by Aaron Schifrin and Kenny Wine, glass by Sam Foreman and photographer Patrick Cullis.
Highlights for 2018
One new activity this year is an art hunt. Leading up to the festival (through July 13), take a selfie in a participating gallery downtown, post it on Instagram or Twitter with #elevationsarthunt and tag @elevationsCU (the event is sponsored by Elevations Credit Union) and be entered to win a $500 gift card to the gallery of your choice.
The Open Studios Mobile Art Lab tent is back this year, too. This is an interactive lab where kids and adults are encouraged to think creatively and express themselves.
Tips for the Pearl Street Art Fest
Keep this in mind when you’re attending the event to get the most out of the experience.
- Come Sunday morning. This is the best time to visit. The artists are all settled in, the crowd hasn’t yet flooded in and the temps are still mild. It can get super hot.
- Dress for heat. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and light layers. Bring water. Expect heat. But even if the weather isn’t great, this event is scheduled to run rain or shine.
- Park for free. City of Boulder parking is free in all parking garages on the weekend. Don’t pay for parking.
- Plan lunch. Find a food court area near the pop jets in front of the courthouse, or plan on visiting one of the many downtown restaurants (although lines might be long). Plus, popping into a restaurant for lunch will cool you off in the AC.
- Leave furry kids at home but bring the human kind. Dogs aren’t allowed on the Pearl Street Mall. Even if they were, it gets crowded during the fest and it’s not a fun time for furry babies. Human kids may enjoy it more, especially if you let them play in the pop jets and visit the art lab.
- Bring money for art. All artists are selling their work. Don’t be scared by the idea of “fine art.” There’s a wide price range.
“Most artists are good at having some things at a lower price point,” Salim says.