If you’ve been to Old Louisville during the first full weekend of October, then you’ve witnessed the expansive splendor that is the St. James Court Art Show. Encompassing four-square blocks, the show annually attracts more than 100,000 attendees to the largest section of preserved Victorian homes in the world to explore more than 700 art exhibitors who come from across the globe. St. James has unquestionably become a cultural institution in Louisville, and that’s because the fair has been able to keep up with the wants and needs of its patrons for six decades.
We’re definitely more than arts and crafts.
“I’d call it a large outdoor fine art and contemporary craft show,” says Marguerite Esrock, executive director since 2005. “We’re definitely more than arts and crafts. We have a lot of high-end artists selling pieces from $500 on up, but then we also have a nice mix of lower-priced items and something for everyone.” Wares at the nationally renowned, juried show span the gamut from more traditional painting and photography to metalwork, pottery, glass sculpture, textiles and jewelry. Interested artists apply in January with applications closing in April. Then, come October– whether blistering heat, merciless cold or that perfect, crisp fall day – they arrive in Old Louisville, the ideal eclectic setting for browsing exceptional art.
“What I really think makes St. James special is the setting and the backdrop of this Victorian neighborhood,” Esrock maintains. “You can find other fine arts shows in the country… but they’re not in that setting. A lot of people like to make a stroll of it and see the homes and architecture. It’s really a charming neighborhood.”
Attendees are invited to bring a canned good to donate.
A newer attraction is the renewed focus on artists based in Louisville and Kentucky. “In the last three or four years, we’ve really tried to recruit Kentucky artists,” Esrock affirms. “The patrons are asking for that and we recognize that there’s a lot of talent here.”
One aspect St. James has sought to improve based on patron feedback is the logistical side of the show. A common criticism has been that it’s simply too crowded to enjoy. Fortunately, Esrock and her team have worked diligently to improve patron experience year after year and made several major decisions that have resulted in more space to walk and browse.
Roughly a decade ago, the city told the show that it could not get any bigger perimeter-wise. At that point, Esrock relates that it was close to bursting at the seams with nearly 800 artists. To combat this issue, the team has methodically and gradually reduced booth space, resulting in more breathing room for both artists and guests. The concession area has also been moved off the street and into Central Park, which has helped with past bottleneck issues.Esrock has also come up with ways to bring back guests who think “they’ve seen it.” There is a 30 to 40 percent turnover of artists every year. The show highlights the new artists by placing them in the central-most interior section. So, if you start at the famous fountain and walk immediately north or south, you’ll encounter all new artists you’ve likely never seen before.
It is a tradition in Louisville and the fact that people bring their kids and expose them to all of these different mediums – the fact that they expose younger generations to art and bring them up appreciating art… is very important and might really be paying off here in Louisville,” says Esrock.
And new this year is a partnership with Dare to Care Food Bank. Attendees are invited to bring a canned good to donate. So, the fair now offers a way to make a contribution to the greater community while browsing awe-inspiring exhibitors.
The combination of meticulously juried art and attention to overall experience is what makes St. James a community institution and a signature event for our city. “It is a tradition in Louisville and the fact that people bring their kids and expose them to all of these different mediums – the fact that they expose younger generations to art and bring them up appreciating art… is very important and might really be paying off here in Louisville,” says Esrock. “I think right now, we have a great set of twenty- and thirty-somethings who are really rocking in the art scene here. I don’t know if St. James has been a part of that or not, but I’d like to think it has.”