What If It Rains? (And Other Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask the Cherry Creek Arts Festival)

The Cherry Creek Arts Festival takes place this weekend, showcasing the work of 255 international artists, along with music, food and other family-friendly attractions. Fest Executive Director Tara Brickell tells us how it works, what to look for this year, and where to park.
The Cherry Creek Arts Festival is a massive operation — an annual three-day event that takes a year of planning to make happen. The outdoor fair makes for an iconic moment on the Front Range cultural calendar, but it’s also a business venture with $3.4 million in sales taking place on one, long weekend.

We asked Tara Brickell, the fest’s executive director, to answer a few questions about how it all works for organizers, artists, and the bustling Cherry Creek neighborhood it calls home. Her answers come in advance of this year’s edition, which presents its big spread of art, food and music July 1-3.

For more info on the weekend, check the web at cherrycreekartsfestival.org.

The Cherry Creek Arts Festival does $3.4 million in art sales. Photo by Walter Penny.

As a business venture, The Cherry Creek Arts Festival is on the risky side, no? Everything depends on three days. What happens when it rains?

Is there wood around to knock on?!  Events tend to err on the side of not for the faint of heart, in many ways. We have worked hard to build a sustainable nonprofit organization. A top priority of our board has been to invest in a rainy-day fund to ensure the organization can weather any unexpected circumstances.

I’m curious about how the fest works for artists? It seems like a lot of hard labor, setting up the booth, camping out on a concrete floor for three days, not to mention all the time and money that goes into making their wares. Do they really make a profit? Oh, and can you tell us how many artists will be showing this year?

This career path isn’t for everyone. It is definitely hard work for artists, reapplying year-after-year, traveling around the country setting up and taking down, all while finding time to create new work. However, from what I hear, it can also be extremely liberating and lucrative. The goal for many of our exhibiting artists is to participate in the top shows around the country, interact directly with their patrons and have an incredible time while doing it.

This year, the Arts Festival has 255 exhibiting artists in 13 media categories. The Arts Festival charges a flat booth fee for exhibiting artists; artists keep 100% of the revenue from their sales. According to our artist survey, during the 2016 Arts Festival artists reported over $3.4 million in sales.The outdoor art, food, and entertainment fest has been taking place for more than a quarter-century. Photo by Frank Montanez.

It always surprises me that the fest comes up with different attractions each year.  How do you keep your product fresh?

I’m so happy to hear that, we work really hard to make sure that it’s not just the same old. We start by trying to recruit artists from all over the world, next we hire five new jurors each year, which allows for a new feel for the curated group of exhibitors year-to-year. This year they selected 255 artists out of 2,100 applicants. 81 of those artists have never exhibited with us before and of those, 30 are first-time applicants. We also love to create unexpected artful experiences that allow guests to discover and delight.

So, what’s new this year?

For the first time ever, we are featuring two works of art for the poster print: Denver Night Sky and Summer in Denver. We have our first ever ticketed concert for arts education featuring the Grammy Award Winning Rebirth Brass Band on Sunday, July 2nd. We have spontaneous intergalactic pop-up performances by the Handsome Little Devils. We are featuring an interactive mural by Kelsey Montague and there is a whole afternoon of adult art-making opportunities for guests to bring their own art to life.  

Can you tell us a little bit about how the fest operates? What does it cost to produce and where does the money come from? Is there a general breakdown of revenue between donations, grants, and what the fest earns during the event?

As a nonprofit organization, CherryArts remains committed to providing access to the arts for Coloradans through free events such as The Cherry Creek Arts Festival and other year-round education programming. Our funding for the arts festival breaks down into a few different areas: sponsorship and donors, participation fees, onsite retail sales and grant funding including funding from SCFD. Over 60% of our revenue is from sponsorship and donors, about 13% is dependent upon onsite sales.

What is the one thing most people don’t know about the Cherry Creek Arts Festival?

We are a year-round nonprofit organization. Our mission is to provide access to arts and support arts education. We have a heavy focus on filling Colorado schools with original art with programs like the CherryArts Mobile Art Gallery, the Janus Henderson Investors Student Art Buying Program and our brand-spanking-new Mobile Art Cart: Screen printing edition.

The fest is produced by Cherry Arts, whose year-round mission is to increase access to the arts for all ages. Photo by Frank Montanez.

I love the event, and I go every year. And every year I panic over where I will park. Can you offer me some good therapy on that one?

Deep breaths, we have you covered. Our long-term partner the Cherry Creek Shopping Center is lifting the gates for the weekend! For the entire duration of the event parking is free at the shopping center. There are also many reasonable parking lots within Cherry Creek North for just $6 a day with a portion of the sales benefitting CherryArts. And of course, we encourage patrons to bike and walk in. There are several b-cycle stations and we have a bike valet at 1st Avenue and Steele Street.

Confluence readers are interested in neighborhoods. That is to say, they like to know what a business or attraction adds to the local flavor. What makes you “Cherry Creek?”

The Cherry Creek Arts Festival was very purposefully born in Cherry Creek 27 years ago. The neighborhood offers a recipe that has allowed for the success of our exhibiting artists and the Arts Festival from day one, making the show a national buzz among artists and patrons. This success has ensured the high caliber of artists showing year-to-year.
Partnering with the Cherry Creek North Business Improvement District and Cherry Creek Arts District, we’ve had the opportunity to connect with local businesses and bring additional art opportunities to the district. We have art that pops up in the district leading up to the event like our 15-foot fiberglass rolling cherry, as well as, more permanent sculptures like a Bill Starke sculpture, Tower of Man on Steele Street that we gifted to the district. We like to think that we contribute to the aesthetic of the area helping build a neighborhood culture that is uniquely Cherry Creek North.
What do you do the other 362 days a year?

We are CherryArts, we produce Colorado Art Events and support arts education. We launch our mobile efforts infusing arts into schools around Colorado starting in September and run them through May. We also produce the CherryArts Festival at Stanley on September 15-17 at Stanley Marketplace. And, believe it or not, but we start planning for Cherry Creek Arts Festival shortly after wrapping up the previous year.
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