Growing and sustaining a 30-year-old business is not an undertaking for the faint of heart.
And when you take into account that this business has cultivated a loyal following that spans multiple generations spread across several continents, you have to wonder --- what’s the secret?
For Susan Morrow Potje, the co-owner (along with her husband Jake) and show director of the Celebration of Fine Art --- a 10-week-long juried, invitational art show located in north Scottsdale that gathers 100 artists from throughout the country --- it’s a matter of remaining tenaciously optimistic and steadfastly committed to creating a culture of connectivity.
This has been imperative to the show’s success over the past three decades and how it has forever changed the way artists and art lovers connect.
“When the concept for Celebration of Fine Art was introduced in the early ‘90s, it was considered avant garde,” said Mrs. Potje. “A lot of people didn’t think it would work, but we knew if we created a positive, inviting atmosphere that was centered on building connections, it would take root. All these years later, that magical culture is still very much alive.”
In 1990, Tom and Ann Morrow, Mrs. Potje’s father and stepmother, put out a call to artists to gauge their interest in participating in a new kind of art show in Scottsdale.
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 in a purposefully informal, yet professional, atmosphere.
To their delight, hundreds of artists responded --- wanting to be a part of this new endeavor. The Morrows set up a jurying event to select the final 100 who would appear in the debut show and with support of city officials and the community, opened the doors to the now iconic “big white tents” in 1991. The inaugural year was met with rave reviews and throngs of visitors captivated by the new approach to showing art.
Today, the tradition, passion and dedication surrounding the show is carried on by Mrs. and Mr. Potje, who took the helm in 2004 with a focus on upholding the Celebration of Fine Art’s culture and elevating the experience it provides year after year--- goals that don’t come without their fair share of challenges.
As any business owner can attest, there is no shortage of obstacles that can cloud your vision and cause you to veer off course. For Mrs. Potje, learning early on to expect the unexpected has been crucial to her ability to adapt and grow as a leader, which has ultimately helped Celebration of Fine Art remain relevant in a growing competitive landscape.
Early on in her career as the show’s director, Mrs. Potje was tasked with handling the logistics that came with moving the show’s location for the third time (in total, the show has relocated four times). This move was particularly challenging as it was Mrs. Potje’s first time going through the multi-layered permitting process as well as managing the costs associated with securing the infrastructure required for the permits.
Staying true to her belief that having a positive attitude and taking positive action is the only way to solve problems, she pushed on. By tenaciously navigating the multiple logistical challenges associated with the project --- all while continuing to build strong community relations --- the show opened on time in that location and remained there for 11 years.
Since then, Mrs. Potje has relocated the show once more to its current location at Hayden Road and the Loop 101, and she says it won’t be the last time.
“With each move, we know it takes an ample investment of time and money –– that won’t ever change,” said Mrs. Potje. “What has changed is my preparedness, which has opened me up to thinking of the things we can do differently to enhance the experience we provide year after year and ways we can contribute to our surrounding community.”
As Arizona’s longest-running art show, an average of 50,000 people attend the Celebration of Fine Art annually over the last three decades, which has contributed a significant boost to Scottsdale’s economy.
Mrs. Potje wanted to find out just what kind of impact the show had on the surrounding community, so she surveyed more than 800 visitors and found they spent, on average, $14.5 million shopping and more than $14.4 million dining out in Scottsdale.
Visitors stayed an average of 16 days and spent more than $8.5 million on entertainment within the area. And these visitors didn’t limit their visit to the Celebration, though that was one reason for their trip.
They also took advantage of other local-area events like Barrett-Jackson auto auction, the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, and Russo and Steele.
Additionally, the show has contributed significant sales tax revenues to both the City of Scottsdale and state of Arizona. Celebration of Fine Art’s headquarters and storage facilities are located in the Scottsdale Airpark and the business employs five year-round staff and up to 30 team members during the show season.
“From the beginning, the Celebration of Fine Art has always made a point to curate top-performing artists in each genre, and in doing so, we’ve been able to continue attracting coveted visitors to the area,” said Mrs. Potje.
“Just as the show’s goal is to connect artists and art lovers, this spirit of camaraderie extends far beyond our tents. We do our best to work with as many Scottsdale businesses as possible to fulfill and supply not only our business needs, allowing us to create a sense of connection that keeps people coming back. We couldn’t be more proud of the relationships we’ve helped foster over the decades.”
The Celebration of Fine Art is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through March 29. During this time, guests can catch artist demonstrations of their process, attend an Art Discovery Series, which is held each Friday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., walk the outdoor sculpture garden, which features nearly 100 pieces of life-sized and monumental sculpture, and enjoy lunch or wine in the cafe.
In the outdoor sculpture garden guests can also see woodturning, welding, kiln firings, and bronze pouring demonstrations weekly.
The show is located on Hayden Road just south of the Loop 101 at exit 35 and is open to guests of all ages. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military, and children under 12 are admitted for free. Tickets are all-event passes, good for the entire 10-week show during which attendees will have the opportunity to see art transform and meet the artists.
For more information about the Celebration of Fine Art, visit celebrateart.com.
Editor's Note: Breanne Krager is a public relations professional.