Amdur celebrates 30 years of Port Clinton Art Festivals

Amy Amdur was just out of college when she organized her first Port Clinton Art Festival, which returns later this month for the 30th year. | Photo submitted
The Port Clinton Art Festival has been drawing large crowds to downtown Highland Park for 29 years. The 30th fest will be held Aug. 24 and 25. | Photo submitted

Amy Amdur didn’taspire to become the go-to organizer of seasonal art fairs when she launched the first Port Clinton Art Festival 30 years ago.

Amdur was fresh out of college and working at her father’s real estate firm, which had been selected by the city of Highland Park to redevelop a pivotal block of the downtown into Port Clinton Square. Steven Amdur and a few partners were tasked with creating a pedestrian mall that would compete with regional shopping malls.

As the project was approaching completion, Amdur piped up and asked what was planned for the grand opening.

“They looked at me — this young 20-year-old — and said, ‘You handle it,’” she recalled.

Amdur sought the advice of a seasoned event planner and put together a series of summer happenings in the plaza. One was the first Port Clinton Art Festival, a juried show that featured 40 artists.

“I was looking for an event to bring people through the twists and turns of Port Clinton Square,” she explained. “I thought an art festival would be just the thing.”

The 30th Port Clinton Art Festival, scheduled for Aug. 24 and 25, is expected to bring in about 260 artists selling original pieces in a range of media — from paintings, photography and sculpture to wearable art, jewelry and hand-crafted furniture. More than 100 of the artists selected this year will be exhibiting at Port Clinton for the first time. This year’s festival is drawing artists from 35 states and four countries.

Once again, the festival will coincide with theTaste of Highland Park, featuring food from 17 local eateries and live music.

“We are on our fourth generation of people seeing the show,” said Amdur. “Children who came to the first show when they were 10 with their parents and grandparents are now 40 years old and bringing their children. That is pretty exciting to be that entrenched in a community’s culture.

“I always did it out of love,” added Amdur, noting she bankrolls all of the advertising, television commercials and staff for the festival.

From its modest beginnings, the festival grew in the 1980s to the point that Amdur needed to ask the city for street closures, which didn’t sit well with some of the merchants at the time.

“A lot of the businesses were not sure it was a good thing, and I personally financed economic impact studies to show the city and businesses here how much income was generated,” she said, explaining the economic ripple from the festival.

Though the Port Clinton Art Festival was an avocation for Amdur for the first 15 years, she turned the experience into a full-time career after the birth of her daughter, who recently turned 16. Amdur’s “aha moment” came while attending to festival matters from her home computer with her daughter in her arms. She realized a job working for someone else would not allow her the same flexibility and freedom to spend time with her children, now 16 and 9.

Her firm, Amdur Productions, now manages 18 art fairs and festivals, including events on the Gold Coast and Magnificent Mile in Chicago; roughly a dozen suburban festivals, and three out-of-state festivals.

Amdur believes her ability to incubate her business for 15 years before living off the income enabled her to build a solid foundation.

“Not everyone has that luxury,” she noted.

She often recalls some advice from her father, who passed away in 2004.

“He said that in business, you have to decide if you just want to be in business until the end of today, or if you want to be in business for years. You will make two different decisions.”

Amdur is proud that her success has allowed her to offer assistance to The Art Center of Highland Park in managing its art festival. As a former board member, she saw the center was struggling with the festival, so she left the board to take on the festival pro bono. The Art Center receives a percentage of sponsorships and artist fees. At her suggestion, they now ask for donations at the gate.

She also created a special fundraising event call Bid or Buy. The artists donate a piece of art and members of the public can either bid on the piece or pay $100 for it.

“I am proud that I’ve been able to create new revenue streams for the art center,” she said. “We’ve been able to be philanthropic and give our time for free to certain important causes, like the city of Highland Park and The Art Center to bring people to the community.”

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