In 1990, Tom and Ann Morrow put out a call to artists to gauge their interest in participating in a new kind of art show in Scottsdale, Arizona. It would be equal parts working art studio and show, spread over the course of eight weeks. Artists could simultaneously create their work while connecting directly with art lovers.
A wild idea? Perhaps.
But to their delight, hundreds of artists responded –– wanting to be a part of this new endeavor. Because of the favorable response, the Morrows set up a jurying event to select the final 100 who would appear in the debut show.
The next year, in 1991, with the support of city officials and the community, the Celebration of Fine Art opened the doors to its “big white tents,” welcoming art lovers to interact with or simply watch the 100 fine-art artists as they created and evolved their work over the course of the eight-week show.
Its inaugural year was met with rave reviews and throngs of visitors enamored by the new approach to showing art. It was, and still is, an unrivaled experience –– part gallery, part working studio, and part art show –– all set in an upscale and intimate, yet inviting and interactive environment.
Passing the torch
Today the tradition, passion and dedication surrounding the show is carried on by Tom’s daughter Susan Morrow Potje and her husband Jake. The husband-and-wife team took the helm in 2004 with a focus on upholding the Celebration of Fine Art’s culture as a place where art lovers and artists connect.
The show has since extended to 10 weeks, but continues to uphold its approach to jurying artists for quality and variety. While the show and the artists who participate have evolved over the years, there remains a commitment to having a full spectrum of fine art and craft represented at the show.
Several years ago, Susan also launched the weekly Art Discovery Series –– an interactive, live experience in which attendees get to learn how art comes together. Each Art Discovery covers a specific theme, whether metalwork, abstract art or sculpture, and brings in artists who’ve mastered that art form for an engaging panel discussion and Q&A.
Connection through art
Beyond the unforgettable art, the show’s most remarkable impact is the deep, personal connections that form between artists and art lovers. There’s a palpable energy that’s felt the instant one sets foot in the tent. It’s the feeling of passion from the artists, and the sense of family and community among art collectors, artists and those behind the Celebration. It’s also the aesthetics of the one-of-a-kind art pieces being created, the gallery-like atmosphere, the energy of constant creation, and the buzz of art lovers connecting with the artists.
And yet this description doesn’t do the Celebration of Fine Art justice –– the energy that has been present since the show’s first year is one that must be experienced first hand.
Today the Celebration, which is located at the Loop 101 and Hayden Road, encompasses 40,000-square-feet of art all surrounding an acre of landscaped sculpture garden featuring outdoor art. Special exhibitions and events are held throughout the 10 weeks, and a cafe is open daily for artists and visitors.
While the show celebrates Scottsdale’s art culture, it reaches far beyond the city limits, attracting visitors from around the world and artists from throughout the country. Attendance has grown dramatically with average annual attendance of more than 50,000 visitors.
For many, the Celebration of Fine Art has become a tradition 30 years in the making. And it’s a tradition both artists and collectors partake in year after year –– some attending every show since day one and others who, over time, have passed along the tradition to their next generations. Ultimately, the thing that keeps artists and art lovers coming back is the sense of connection the show evokes.