Now in its 54th year, the annual Summerfair brings more than 300 artists and more than 20,000 art enthusiasts to Coney Island for a weekend of creative celebration. But the nonprofit’s support of the Cincinnati art scene extends much deeper than the beloved weekend event. Money raised through the June festivities creates a ripple effect of powerful, and sustained, support for a wide variety of local artists – cultivating a sense of true recognition and respect for their work.
Resoundingly, the grants, scholarships, and exhibitions provided by Summerfair Cincinnati are career-shaping for those honored by the organization. June’s fine arts fair promotes Greater Cincinnati’s best artists and serves as the primary fundraiser for the non-profit’s long-term support of these individuals.
One such method of support is the Aid to Individual Artists award, a $5,000 grant to a creator residing within a 40-mile-radius of Cincinnati. Lisa Merida-Paytes was one of the 2021 recipients, adding to her three prior individual artist recognitions from Summerfair Cincinnati.
Her current, primarily autobiographical work is a deeply personal reckoning with her diagnosis of common Ataxia.
“It is very much appreciated and needed for artists,” says Merida-Paytes of Summerfair grants. “There’s a hotbed of artists in our area that are just incredibly talented.”
Money from booth and vendor fees at Summerfair goes directly to these grants. For Merida-Paytes, these funds allow her to purchase new materials and, “keep working on pieces and ideas in the studio that I couldn’t do without their support.”
Artist Stacey Dolen, another recipient of the AIA Award, knows the benefits of a Summerfair grant. “The grant afforded me time and materials,” Dolen says, “it really was a catalyst for expanding and developing a new body of work.”
Her interactions with Summerfair illuminate just how far the reach of support extends. After receiving the award in 2016, Dolen was selected for Summerfair Select 2020 – an exhibition at the Westin Gallery featuring the work of 12 grant-winning artists. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition was pushed to Spring 2022.
“[It was] satisfying and rewarding to see this body of work that I had developed with the grant on a white wall presented in a professional manner alongside the very strong work of other artists who had been grant recipients,” says Dolen.
Alice Pixley-Young was also featured in the Spring exhibition as a previous AIA recipient. An instructor at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Pixley-Young carries a unique understanding of arts education and funding. For her, the effects of Summerfair’s financial support extend beyond her personal development.
“When I’ve received scholarships for workshops for classes, whatever I get out of it is going to be going to my students and their benefit through my education,” says Pixley-Young.
Funding for artistic pursuits and education is not always easy to find. Grants from the Ohio Arts Council are only granted every two years and the National Endowment of the Arts no longer gives grants to visual artists. So, organizations like Summerfair Cincinnati–in addition to their arts shows–often are the best option for financial flexibility and support.
“It’s much harder for us and many artists… I’m probably one of the few people that has a regular steady job, which is wonderful. But that’s not the case for so many visual artists and craftspeople out there,” said Pixley-Young.
Without the tireless volunteers involved with the non-profit, such financial support and exhibitions would not be possible. The passion of such volunteers becomes its own well of inspiration and support for Cincinnati artists. “It’s just a real groundswell of support that is moving and encouraging,” Dolen says. “And [it] gives us hope that artists can not only survive but thrive when there’s an interested, caring community.”
Summerfair is truly a bright gem in the Cincinnati community, a belief echoed by its artists.
“It’s a much wider ranging and impactful organization. The fair and the festival are terrific, you really have high-caliber arts and crafts at the fair, but the scope and depth of support that it offers extends far beyond,” Dolen says.
Summerfair runs June 3–5 at Coney Island, featuring local and regional entertainment, art, and expression. Find more information on the event and grants here.