Tents are pitched, stages ready, grills primed, artists poised for action.

Starting Friday, Minneapolis will feel — momentarily — like the epicenter of the art world as nearly 700 artists converge for a long weekend of showing and selling everything handmade, from paintings, photos and pottery to jewelry, leather goods, furniture, wind chimes and toys. All the while gospel, folk or rock music will throb in the background, and Metro Transit buses will ferry fans between fair sites in the Uptown, Powderhorn and Loring Park neighborhoods.

After more than half a century of such hoopla you’d expect maybe a bit of art fair burnout. But not so, at least in the Hennepin/Lake neighborhood that has for the past 51 years hosted the Uptown Art Fair, the internationally known grande dame of Minnesota’s summer art scene.

“Personally, I love it,” said Jessi Blackstock, retail manager of Magers & Quinn Booksellers, whose front door opens onto Hennepin Avenue at the heart of the Uptown festivities. “I think it’s fun; it’s part of the neighborhood and the season and it would be really weird without it.”

In fact, the Uptown event is such a neighborhood signature that when Magers & Quinn was launched 20 years ago, it deliberately opened on art fair weekend for “maximum visibility,” said Blackstock. The shop still sets pretty art and craft books near its entrance to catch the eye of fairgoers.

Urban flux

The Uptown neighborhood has changed in the half-century since the fair started. There are more high-end condos and pricey apartments, more bars, restaurants and national brand shops including H&M, Urban Outfitters, the Apple Store and Victoria’s Secret. But Uptown advocates insist the area is compatible with a street fair whose vendors come from 36 states plus Israel, Argentina and England. Last year it attracted 385,000 visitors, who spent $1.96 million on art over three days.

“There’s always been a young demographic in Uptown along with a diversity of ages, but young professionals are predominantly the ones who live, work and play in Uptown,” said Mike Finkelstein, a real estate broker with the Ackerberg Group and treasurer of the Uptown Association, which sponsors the fair. “I suppose if you’re a resident there are restrictions for three days, but that’s part of being urban, part of the lifestyle.”

To keep residents happy and area businesses engaged, the Uptown Association surveys participants and visitors, provides free bus passes to employees, and uses fair proceeds for neighborhood beautification projects, bike racks and even bikes for the area’s beat cops.

“We take a lot of input from businesses,” said Maude Lovelle, executive director of the Uptown Association and CEO of the art fair. “The neighborhood changes have only helped strengthen our relationships and the event.”

Uptown engagement

Still, some national chain stores appear disengaged.

Victoria’s Secret has no special plans for this weekend, but would welcome any new customers lured in by the festivities, said manager Melissa Douglas. Apple Store officials had no comment, but Urban Outfitters is totally on board.

“We’re so excited that we’ve created our own art gallery in the store,” said manager Jess Andrews, a 10-year Urban Outfitters veteran who has been running the Uptown outlet for the past year. The store’s gallery, whose shows change monthly, opened in June with paintings by local artist Kate Renee. Next up are photos by Dresden Silva. The Uptown venue is the first, and so far, only, gallery in the Urban Outfitters chain.

“We’re part of a big company that supports individuality, and we saw an opportunity to support the Uptown community through art,” Andrews said, noting that the artists get “100 percent” of any sales of their work.

Across the street, Kitchen Window also is deeply committed to the fair. A homegrown Uptown institution, the culinary-ware store will have at least 50 staff members on duty throughout the weekend, demonstrating grills in front of the store, selling paella from a booth, and hosting the popular three-year-old “culinary arts competition” that pairs local chefs and artists and challenges them to creatively use the same ingredients in food and art.

“I love the fair,” said Kitchen Window owner Doug Huemoeller. “There aren’t very many places that have an opportunity to have 350,000 visitors in a weekend, so you embrace it and figure out how to be part of it.”