Sharon Strubbe – Summerfair

By Laura A. Hobson

Over the last two decades, Summerfair has contributed more than $500,000 in awards and scholarships to individual artists as well as additional support to events and exhibitions, particularly small arts institutions. “Word is starting to spread about what we are doing,” says Sharon K. Strubbe, executive director since 2006.  “We are supporting young artists, in high school, in college and graduates.”  Founded more than 40 years ago, Summerfair is a one-person non-profit organization that offers a multitude of programs year-round.

For example, it provides Aid to Individual Artists (AIA) with an award of $3,000 to local artists.  Since its inception in 1983, AIA has bestowed this honor to more than 80 artists who live within a 40-mile radius of Greater Cincinnati.  A panel of professional judges, often outside the Greater Cincinnati area, review the submitted work in a variety of mediums and decide on winners.  This year, AIA honored Dan Vance, Cindy Hamann, Kevin Muente, Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis.

Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis

Married to each other with jobs as assistant professors of ceramics at UC’s DAAP, Parker, 33, and Davis, 35, have exhibited throughout the city, including the Taft Museum of Art, the Contemporary Arts Center and the Cincinnati Art Museum. They applied to Summerfair for the first year because they had “ideas bigger than what we can do out of our pockets,” said Parker.

An unusual winner of the award is Milford resident Dan Vance, 64, whose family is from the hills of Virginia.  Since his father was a coal miner turned auto mechanic, Vance grew up hearing stories of the mines and the company store.  As a result, he specializes in the lives of miners using oil painting.  While his original degree is a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Cincinnati, he now is working on a B.A. degree.  Seven years ago, he took a drawing class at UC Blue Ash and found that he had an affinity in art.

Now a winner, Vance plans to travel to other cities and galleries as well as fund a studio rental in Cincinnati.   “We work alone in studios and do not know if people will get or like what we are doing.  I would encourage others to pursue their dreams.  Who knows where you will go and what will happen?” said Vance.

Kevin Muente

Professor of painting at Northern Kentucky University and AIA winner, Kevin Muente, 42, often finds his inspiration in Erlanger on the campus of the Marydale Retreat Center.  Drawn to thought-provoking, edgy painting, Muente has exhibited regionally and nationally.  Influenced by such painters as Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer, he was encouraged by Ken Landon Buck of The Art Academy of Cincinnati to apply for the award.  This is the second time he has won; the first being in 2009.

Finally, Cindy Hamann, 62, a retired elementary art teacher living with her husband in Norwood, works in pastels to create Cincinnati scenes inspired by Claude Monet.  She plans to use the money to attend national workshops to improve her skills as a pastel artist.

“It’s a juggling act,” said Strubbe of her 24/7 job.  Easily working 50 hours a week, she is dedicated to her task drawing on years of experience in teaching, administration, marketing and advertising.  As do other organizations, she gears some of her attention to the young movers and shakers in the art community.  She finds her position a good fit as she has a BFA from Virginia Tech and organizational experience.

Another Summerfair project is its sponsorship of regional scholastic arts and writing awards given to high school students who go on to exhibit in New York City.  Andy Warhol is a famous example of an artist who won a scholastic award many years ago in his hometown of McKeesport, Pennsylvania; it launched his career. From 2012 until 2015, Summerfair has underwritten an arts integration program into education at the Carnegie Arts Center.

At the college level, Summerfair sponsors an Emerging Artist Program.  This year, six area schools participated:  UC’s DAAP, Thomas More College, College of Mt. St. Joseph, Northern Kentucky University, Xavier University and Miami University.  Winners exhibit at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center.

With smaller arts organizations, Summerfair has granted money to the Cincinnati Black Theatre Company, the Milford Theatre and the Lloyd Library and Museum. With an annual operating budget of $500,000, funded by Summerfair proceeds, a panel of three to four art professionals outside the Greater Cincinnati area selects recipients of the contributions.

In its 46th year, Summerfair 2014 features over 300 artisans and craftspeople from around the country.  It will take place May 30, May 31 and June 1 at Coney Island.  Applications for Summerfair 2014 will be accepted through February 8.  For more information, visit the website at or call (513) 531-0050.

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