By Sherry Jackson
A love of art and a vision to bring an immersive experience to patrons in Scottdale led show founders Tom and Ann Morrow to create the Celebration of Fine Art, now celebrating its 30th year.
The show runs through Sunday, March 29, under its signature “big white tents” at Hayden Road and the Loop 101. It’s Arizona’s longest-running art show.
Inspired by the Laguna Beach Festival of Art in California, the Morrows wanted to give Valley art lovers an alternative way to experience art and to interact with artists. Together, the husband-and-wife team launched the Celebration of Fine Art in 1990 with approximately 100 fine-art artists displaying and creating their works. In 2004, Tom’s daughter, Susan Morrow Potje, and her husband, Jake, took over to carry on the family tradition.
“Dad was a serial entrepreneur and wanted to bring artists together in a completely different way for people to experience and buy art,” says Morrow Potje, who serves as the co-owner and show director. “In 1989, (when the idea was first discussed), it was a very foreign idea for Scottsdale.”
The 10-week show is considered one of the premier art shows in the West, giving visitors access to watch the more than 100 artists work on their craft as well as view their creations. It’s part gallery, part working studio and part art show—all set in an upscale and interactive environment.
“We’ve grown from being locally known to being known worldwide now in the art world,” Morrow Potje says. “We just keep plugging along and building our reputation for quality art.”
The white tents encompass 40,000 square feet of art surrounded by an acre of landscaped sculpture garden featuring outdoor art. Guests can also see woodturning, welding, kiln firings and bronze pouring demonstrations weekly.
“At first, the big white tent was for rain shelter and it was the largest tent west of the Mississippi,” Morrow Potje says. “Now, it provides an intimate setting for visitors to be absorbed by the art surrounding them.”
Artists come from all over the country, and the show features a variety of styles and mediums. Festival organizers provide a basic studio shell and then artists can customize their own studio space.
“You really feel the difference as you go from studio to studio,” Morrow Potje says.
In recent years, there’s been a trend toward more contemporary and abstract art, but Western and traditional art are still going strong, she says. Several artists have been with the show since the beginning, and artists who get juried are invited to come back the following year. About 15% to 20% of the artists are new to the show.
“It’s a beautiful mix of high-quality art with artists in the top percentile,” Morrow Potje says. “The dynamics and camaraderie of the artists create a rich community that’s supportive and happy for each other.”
Artists are encouraged to create their art in their makeshift studios throughout the event, providing visitors a close look at how they create their art. Pieces range from canvas art to jewelry, to glass blowing and more. At a previous year’s show, a sculptor brought a large, clay monumental warrior he was working on. It graced the show’s entryway the following year and was later sold to the CEO and founder of Bass Pro Shops for installation at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri.
Special exhibitions and events are held throughout the 10-week Fine Art show, and a cafe is open daily for artists and visitors. Attendance has grown dramatically in the past 30 years, with an average annual attendance of more than 50,000 visitors. According to a recent survey, most out-of-town visitors stay 16 days, more than twice the median stay of the average Scottsdale visitor.
Celebration of Fine Art is also a strong partner in the community, with local fundraisers supporting free arts for abused children.
An Art After Dark event and closing party is held the last Friday of the show. On Fridays during the show, an art discovery series delves more in-depth into a different art topic each week.
“It makes for a lively discussion,” Morrow Potje says. “It’s taking different topics and art and elevating the discussion.”
The Celebration of Fine Art show is geared toward not just art collectors, but those interested in art and even first timers.
“We’re just trying to make it the best ever,” Morrow Potje says. “We want people to walk away energized and enlightened and to experience something that they don’t get to every day.”
Celebration of Fine Art, Under the white tents at Hayden Road and Loop 101 in Scottsdale, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to Sunday, March 29, $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military, children younger than 12 are admitted at no charge. The Celebration of Fine Art ticket is an all-event pass that is good for all 10 weeks, celebrateart.com.