6 Great Summer Art Fairs in Wisconsin

By Manya Kaczkowski
Special to TravelWisconsin.com

Artists have been selling their works outdoors for thousands of years, and that tradition remains strong today. In Wisconsin, the best art fairs tend to be on the shores of our numerous lakes and rivers, where visitors can make their art selections in a serenely beautiful, natural environment.

From a sparkling set of bejeweled earrings to a stunning oil painting of a dramatic sunset, you’re sure to find something that stirs your senses. Here are six of the best summer art festivals:

Lakefront Festival of Arts - Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Art Museum sponsors this three-day art festival on the lakefront in June, with more than 170 artists from throughout the nation and thousands of visitors. Art-lovers can enjoy a taste from the vine in the wine garden, then stroll through aisles of fine art.

In addition to delicate glass, fine jewelry and original paintings, shoppers can purchase one-of-a-kind fashions, sculptures and furnishings. A children’s hands-on studio/play area offers free or low-cost artistic endeavors for young Picassos and Renoirs.

Art Fair on the Square - Madison

Every July, Art Fair on the Square is a can’t-miss-it summertime destination for fine arts enthusiasts from across the Midwest. The annual art fair, organized by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art on the grounds of the state Capitol, features music, entertainment and outdoor dining, as well as the work of nearly 500 juried artists exhibiting works from every niche of the visual arts.  

A companion show, Art Fair Off the Square, shows and sells the work of 140 Wisconsin artisans on the esplanade of the Monona Terrace Community Center.

Artarama’s Riverwalk Art Show - Eagle River

Picturesque Riverside Park is the location of this one-day-only fine art show and sale, a tradition that began in 1972. More than 125 artists from throughout the nation display a variety of fine artwork including mixed media, jewelry, paintings, fiber, metal, photography and much more.

A silent auction features pieces donated from the artists in the show, with profits going toward art scholarships and artist-in-residence programs. This well-respected art show brings 8,000 visitors from far and wide each year.

Bayfield Festival of Arts - Bayfield

At this annual art festival held in July on the sparkling shores of Lake Superior, visitors stroll through Memorial Park examining sculpture, jewelry, pottery and paintings. Best of all, more than 11 art galleries throughout Bayfield welcome guests with live demonstrations and special sales.

“Visitors can witness the creation of art first-hand,” said Erin Johnson, Bayfield Chamber of Commerce. “Watch local artists perform wheel-thrown pottery techniques and enjoy silver smithing, painting and weaving demonstrations.” 

Venetian Festival Arts & Crafts Fair - Lake Geneva

More than 100 artisans and crafters gather in southern Wisconsin in late August, setting up in tented booths in Library Park along the shores of Geneva Lake for this art festival.

On Sunday, after a full weekend of perusing the lovely, hand-crafted items at the fair, shoppers turn toward the water for a different set of artistic events.

“Don’t miss the water ski show, the parade and the fireworks on Sunday night,” said Matt Stinebrink, art festival chairman.

Good advice: after the speed and acrobatic thrills of the Wonder Lake Ski team, boats of all shapes and sizes cruise by, lit with thousands of twinkling lights in enchanting nautical performance art. 

Great River Folk Festival - La Crosse

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus transforms into a haven for artists and performers of the home-grown variety the last weekend of summer. The Great River Folk Festival is an art festival filled with handmade artistry, featuring items such as wool rugs, beautiful glaze-painted pottery and hand-turned wooden bowls.

Performance art abounds with music from nationally renowned performers playing everything from bluegrass to swing. Plus, there’s no need to leave when folks get hungry; ethnic foods prepared by local nonprofit organizations give a welcome twist to the usual “fair food.” 

Browse more art fairs happening this summer and throughout the year in our events directory!