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A photo of a customer talking to an artist from inside his car at a drive-thru art loop.

Resilient Ohio: Toledo Artists Keep Creativity Cruising Along with Drive-Thru Art Shows

“Last year, my calendar was full to the brim.  Within four days, every class, exhibit, and event evaporated” - Mary Jane Erard, artist and art educator

The first Art Loop Art Fair was held in May 2020 in a parking lot with orange traffic cones marking the intended route for cars. Photo courtesy of Mary Jane Erard. When the realities of COVID-19 made the mere thought of a traditional, indoor art fair seem out of the question, Mary Jane Erard, an artist and art educator from Toledo, had an idea: a socially distanced, drive-thru show.

Modeled off of similar drive-thru events she’d seen in other states, Erard reached out to a fellow artist and friend, Miriam Wagner, owner of the West Toledo Art and Performing Center. Wagner’s venue, previously home to many art classes and exhibitions, had just announced its decision to close due to loss of revenue. Erard proposed the drive-thru art show as a “last hurrah” for the venue.

“I felt strong empathy for all the artists who were losing out on this venue—a place where they could sell their art and meet other artists,” Erard said. “I thought, ‘What if all of (Wagner’s) represented artists from her shop lined up outside of her building, and we allowed people to drive through?’”

And so, in May 2020, the first Art Loop Art Fair was born in a small parking lot with orange traffic cones marking the intended route for cars. 

“The artists set up, very informally, some using the trunks of their cars, and displayed their art as people drove by,” Erard said.

Patrons would drive by and stop if they were interested in purchasing art from an artist’s booth. Keeping with public safety protocols, all artists and patrons wore masks, and many sales were made through car windows.

“What was really cool was to see the patrons be so flexible and supportive,” Erard said. “They didn’t seem to mind that it wasn’t a typical, fancy art show. They didn’t mind that in order to make a sale, you had to speak to someone from inside a car. Things didn’t look as polished as they used to, but everybody was really supportive.”

Art Loop patrons could drive through the route and stop if they were interested in purchasing art. Sales were made from inside cars through car windows. Photo courtesy of Mary Jane Erard.So supportive, in fact, that artists convened again in September for a second show. This one was also a drive-thru, with areas partitioned by cones for walk-through customers.

Another artist participating in these events, Ottawa County resident Donna Ebert, found the drive-thru show in September to be one of her most lucrative shows to date.

“As an artist, taking part in an art show is the biggest opportunity for advertising that you can do. People want to know your body of work,” Ebert said. “The drive-thru was just what had to be done in order to get our work out there.”

What started as a group of 12-15 artists showcasing their work in a parking lot has become a growing network of Ohio artists, Erard said.

“I was hoping this would be a way to get artists together—I had no idea I would use this same group of artists for the following outdoor art events,” she said.

This May, Elmore, Ohio’s Schedel Gardens will host another socially-distanced outdoor Art Loop show, although Erard said that this one will not be a drive-thru.

This May, Elmore, Ohio’s Schedel Gardens will host another socially-distanced outdoor art show. Photo courtesy of Mary Jane Erard.“The fact that we are going on to do this show again next month and other artists have been contacting us saying ‘we want in, we want in!’ tells us that artists are hungry for work, and I think the public is hungry for art as well,” Ebert said.

Though the pandemic has pressed “pause” on many of the events that fill up an artist’s calendar in a typical year, Erard said the arts community has found creative ways to make it through. She added that she was encouraged by how artists quickly adapted in order to continue to fuel their artistic fire.

“I feel like at a time where we were all isolated, we could’ve easily shut down our creative juices and gotten really scared and put our art supplies away on a shelf,” she said. “I think through offering these outdoor shows and giving artists something to look forward to, I’ve noticed people actually starting to paint and create even more.”

For more information about the upcoming Art Loop Fairs, visit the events’ Instagram page at @2021_art_Loop_Fair.

Resilient Ohio is an ongoing series highlighting the innovative solutions developed by Ohio arts organizations as they navigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has created incredible financial obstacles for the arts across the country. According to Americans for the Arts, the negative economic impact of the coronavirus on the arts and cultural sector totals $15.2 billion across the nation—and counting. If you have a story to share about creative perseverance within Ohio’s arts community, please email it to communications@oac.ohio.gov.

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Cassie Rea, 2021 Ohio Arts Council Arts Administration Fellow
Featured photo courtesy of Mary Jane Erard



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