Tennessee Craft Fair celebrates 50 years – The Tennessean

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary for the Tennessee Craft Fair. Held twice a year in Centennial Park, the fair brings together hundreds of regional artists to share their craft and sell their wares. During the three-day event, up to 50,000 people are expected to gather on the lawn in front of the Parthenon 
to peruse the latest in local art.

Teri Alea has served as executive director of Tennessee Craft, formerly TACA, for the past four-and-a-half years. She has overseen nine fairs in her tenure; this year’s fall fair will be her 10th.

“A lot of people think the fair is the only thing we do but really it’s the most public thing we do,” said Alea. “I want to make sure the organization as a whole truly provides a benefit to artists. Artists need to be connected to the public, and they need to sell their work. They can’t keep making it without selling it. It completes the circle of support.”

Much of Alea’s career has been dedicated to bringing art to the Nashville public. Prior to joining Tennessee Craft, Alea worked at Metro Nashville Arts Commission for 10 years. She started as program director, and then became a grants coordinator. She helped launch the public art program with department head Sandra Duncan, and later served as a public art project manager, where she managed the first wave of artist-made bike racks, as well as “Ghost Ballet for the East Machineworks” by Alice Aycock, the red steel and aluminum corkscrew on the bank of the Cumberland River, visible from Lower Broadway.

“Everything we do hinges on having the best quality work,” said Alea of Tennessee Craft. “Our guidelines for the fair require that the artists actually make the work. It isn’t just upcycled materials thrown together, or glued together, there has to be a manipulation of medium.”

Living art

According to Alea, the central mission of the organization is to continue and create Tennessee’s fine craft traditions. They want to make sure the skills and knowledge are passed down.

“We want to make sure that one day all of this stuff is not just in a museum, and you can’t find anyone still doing it.”

At the fair, every artist is encouraged to perform a live demonstration of their skills. If they cannot demonstrate, they are still required to put up an artist statement in the booth that explains their process.

To ensure that the quality stays top-notch, the number of vendors for the fair is capped at about 200.

“We don’t want to increase that number,” she said. “People need to make a living, and if there are too many pieces of the pie, they don’t make enough money at the fair.”

The artists are chosen through jury process. Each fair recruits a panel of five new judges to choose the season’s vendors. The jurors include professionals with a range of artistic backgrounds, from teachers, gallery owners, curators and other art professions.

“We have artists who walk the show and are impressed by their peers,” she said. “And that makes them want to come back.”

One-of-a-kind finds

In 2014, the estimated total sales for the fair reached $1 million. Alea said that clay and jewelry are consistent top sellers.

“Tennessee’s art is one-of-a-kind,” said said. “You can’t find it at Target. It has soul. It feels good to drink out of a handmade cup, to serve food on a platter that someone made. When artists have a real skill, it shows up in the work that you are buying And it’s nice to meet the person who created it.”

So where does Tennessee Craft draw the line between fine art and craft?

“We don’t,” Alea said. “We let the work speak for itself. The best work is both craft and art. Even functional art can be conceptual. We don’t only allow craft, we have painters and other fine artists represented at the fair, as well.”

If you are unable make it to this weekend’s event, you can browse all the work online. Since 2012, Tennessee Craft has presented each fair on its website. The virtual fair portal features a map of the entire fair. Site visitors can hover over any booth, see images and access the artist’s website and email address.

If you go

What: Tennessee Craft’s 2015 Fall Craft Fair

Where: Centennial Park

When: Friday through Sept. 27

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 27

Admission: free