Faces of Berkeley: Jan Etre, local artist

Berkeley resident organizes annual fair showcasing artists' talent

Gracie Malley/Staff
Jan Etre has been in charge of the Live Oak Festival for the past 25 years. The next festival will be the weekend of June 9th.

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Beneath a canopy of redwood and oak, Jan Etre lounges peacefully on the grounds of Live Oak Park in northeast Berkeley — a site that will soon be saturated by the influx of tents, exhibitors and fair-goers when the 42nd Annual Live Oak Park Fair begins this weekend.

Though the fair has successfully brought artists together on the peaceful park property for 42 years, Etre revitalized the event after a visit to Berkeley. After writing to the organizers, she inherited the fair from the now-defunct Berkeley Art Festival Guild, which intended to stop organizing the fair after Etres’ visit in 1987.

“I thought it was such a gorgeous opportunity to continue this event and expand it,” Etre said.

From its humble origins as a handful of stands, this year’s fair — taking place on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — will boast 105 exhibitors, several food stands and a full line-up of acoustic entertainment.

Planning for the fair is a six-month affair, according to Etre. All of the artists exhibit their original creations — ranging from wearable goods such as jewelry and clothing to sculpture, paintings and stonework.

“The way I look at it is that it’s a big garden party, and I’m the hostess,” she said. “The biggest challenges come from being patient with myself.”

Etre is also an artist specializing in textiles, painting and mixed-media. She said that although she used to exhibit her work at the fair, she quickly realized that her other obligations in running the event meant she needed to focus on overseeing production. Still, many colleagues say her experience as an artist helps her understand the needs and limitations of exhibitors.

Printmaker and UC Berkeley alumna Yoshiko Yamamoto attends the fair each year as an exhibitor, and creates the colorful prints that Etre uses to decorate the promotional materials for the event. This year, Yamamoto will travel with her eight-year-old son all the way from their home in Washington state.

“I don’t know how (Etre) does it every year, but she does a fantastic job,” Yamamoto said. “I wish there were more like it. Other fairs can be very exclusive, charging people so much to exhibit and even just to go in and look around.”

Although Berkeley has a lot to offer culturally, Etre said, the fair offers an intimate, safe and free place for art enthusiasts and families to come together purely for the sake of art.

The fair is not as large as other events the city hosts during the course of the year, but communications manager for Visit Berkeley — a website for the Berkeley Convention and Visitors Bureau — Dan Marengo said the fair holds a significant regional draw, bringing people from outlying communities into Berkeley for the day.

To help reduce traffic in the neighborhood surrounding the park, the event provides a free shuttle service running every 30 minutes from the North Berkeley BART station.

Etre has also produced the KPFA Crafts Fair in San Francisco during the second weekend of December each year since 1989. The KPFA fair is the largest judged craft fair of its kind in Northern California, according to Sally Phillips, who has been a producer for the fair’s KPFA 94.1 FM radio station broadcast for the past several years.

“A lot of artists are very loyal to the (KPFA) fair because (Etre’s) relationship with the craftspeople and artists is so strong,” Phillips said.

For Etre, the Live Oak Park fair is not just an opportunity for artists to sell their wares, but also for them to come together as a community. Coming from an artistic background, Etre understands the isolation that many artists experience while working alone in their studios and traveling to different fairs and shows to display their work.

“Most people are struggling (financially),” she said. “The payoff is that they get to live a life of their own choosing, but the sacrifice is (fiscal stability).”

As much as the financial and logistical stress that goes into producing the fair every year, Etre shows no intention of leaving the exhibition she has nurtured these past 24 years.

“To put a show in a neighborhood like this, it’s a gift,” Etre said. “It celebrates the neighborhood.”

Adelyn Baxter is the news editor.