After moving to Berkeley in 1983, Jan Etre eked out a living at art and wine festivals. She worked in a variety of media but often focused her energy on elaborate, detailed crafts that could only be made one at a time — such as her line of leather dress bags with metal ornaments etched onto them. Etre said the work wasn’t sustainable; she couldn’t pull enough revenue to justify the time it took to hand-sew everything, or the cost of traveling to all the major national art shows. “I was putting everything into my art,” Etre recalled. “I even got on airplanes and flew. … After I paid all the expenses, I didn’t have much left.” In 1987 she found an escape hatch, when a management position opened at the Live Oak Park Fair. Etre had already participated in the event for several years, and says that by then, she was qualified to be both an exhibitor and a producer. “I have both the right brain and left brain firing,” she explained.
Thus, Etre developed an art festival business model that would endure for more than two decades. In 1989 she signed on to manage the KPFA Crafts & Music Fair as well. By producing the two events in tandem, Etre consolidated her reputation. Her fests are imaginative and tasteful, and always feature a hand-picked selection of artisans. (Vendors are turned away if their work isn’t up to par.) More importantly, her fairs have the distinction of not being venal. Since Etre rose through the ranks as an artist, and still hawks her own wares — she’s currently into quilting and print-making — she has a lot of sympathy for other exhibitors. She says that other events often shift the focus to sponsorship or booth fees, or other fiduciary interests. “Art and wine fests are pretty clean, but some other events are using artisans and craftspeople as backdrop to make money for who-knows-what,” Etre said. “Artists are sitting ducks in a way because they need to sell their work. The current climate has exhibitors working all week making their stuff, and selling on the weekend.”
In this context, Etre’s fairs stand out for their integrity. Live Oak, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary, takes the bad-economy blues in stride. So do its participants; more than 100 artists will appear at this year’s event, selling quilts, baskets, prints, woodwork, sculpture, jewelry, apparel, couture, glasswork, pottery, and paintings. Among them is Yoshiko Yamamoto, whose block print “Tangerines” serves as this year’s fair logo. Yamamoto lives in Port Townsend, Washington, where she and her husband Bruce Smith run a small publishing house called Arts & Crafts Press. This year’s musical lineup includes singer-songwriters Bear Kittay and Alex McMurray, plus ukulele chanteuse Tippy Canoe. Etre will be on hand to showcase some of her own work. She says she’s mostly making art for pleasure right now, which is a luxury. Live Oak Park Fair runs Saturday and Sunday, June 12-13, in Live Oak Park (1301 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley). 10 a.m.-6 p.m., free. LiveOakParkFair.com