Jayne Utter on Peace, Love and Summerfair

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Video by Madison Schmidt

Art shows come and go as easily as the latest styles. But back when bell bottoms and tie dye were in vogue, a group of Mt. Adams residents decided to hold an arts festival to celebrate the opening of the then-new Playhouse in the Park. What we know now as Summerfair began with a 10 cent map, free admission and $3 booth spaces.

Fast forward 50 years, and Summerfair has put the bell bottoms away in favor of a more sophisticated, nationally-ranked juried arts exhibition drawing more than 300 artists from around the country and thousands of visitors to Coney Island. This weekend will mark the golden anniversary of what has become the kickoff to the summer arts season in Cincinnati, guided under the watchful eye of Jayne Utter, now in her third year as managing director. 

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  Jayne Utter, managing director of Summerfair, with WLWT’s Megan Mitchell.

Jayne Utter, managing director of Summerfair, with WLWT’s Megan Mitchell.

“I’ve been involved in Summerfair since 1989,” said Utter, who worked her way up from volunteer to the first female member of “The Gang” in charge of behind-the-scenes planning to her current job as the managing director.

On the eve of the 50th edition of Summerfair, the prep work has been done—now comes the hands-on part of mapping out booth space this week and getting exhibitor packets ready for pickup before move-in. “We have had very few cancellations this year,” she said. “I’ve had to disappoint a lot of artists on the wait list because hardly anyone called to cancel. Everyone wants to be part of the 50th year.”

And while most of us think of Summerfair as a three-day event, Utter is quick to remind that Summerfair stays active in the arts community all year round. Summerfair hands out awards to community arts organizations and individual artists throughout the year to support their efforts, including Aid to Individual Artists and the Summerfair Select exhibition highlighting the winners’ works, and Small Arts Organization Awards. “We’ve given more than $1 million back to the community through our awards to artists and art organizations,” said Utter.

So what’s the best way to get around Summerfair? Utter has some pro tips.

“First, it’s more economical to buy a multi-day pass,” she said. “Most people come Friday, see something they like, they go home to measure, then come back to buy it. Instead of paying $10 two separate times, it’s easier to buy one multi-use pass for $15 and you can come and go as many times as you’d like. Buy on line (at summerfair.org) and it saves you even more time.

“Second, is grab a map. If you’ve been here before, you probably have a favorite artist. Our long-time artists usually request the same spot, but get a map to make sure you can find them. And, you’ll also be able to find other artists quickly if you have the map.

“Third, is to make a day of it. Grab your girlfriends and shop. Kick it off Saturday with Brunch in the Gardens with your friends, then spend the rest of the morning and afternoon shopping. It’s more fun with a group, and you might see artists and artworks that you never would have considered before.

“Fourth, make a list of all the landmark events you’ll need to buy a present for this year: Birthdays, holidays, baby showers, Father’s Day, weddings. There’s a good chance you can get your shopping done for the year during Summerfair weekend. And they’ll be one-of-a-kind gifts, as well.”

As it celebrates its 50th birthday this weekend, Summerfair is ready to mark its first half century while it gears up to serve the Greater Cincinnati arts community for the next 50 years—and beyond.