Tampa Bay seems to have hit its cultural center puberty over the past few years. While we may not be the mature visual arts destination that is New York, Miami, or even San Francisco, we’re clearly and progressively developing. There’s a particular benchmark, though, that we have yet to meet: the art fair.
I’ll preemptively ask it: What about the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Mainsail Art Festival, or any one of the other innumerable local art festivals? Sorry, but they don’t meet our ‘art fair’ benchmark – festivals are not fairs.
The distinction may seem trivial, but it’s fundamental. While sales are an integral part of festivals and fairs alike, the latter serve a critical function that the former are not intended to. Fairs are a time for artists, curators, dealers, and gallerists to bring out the best they have – on the micro level it allows visitors to browse the best art of several galleries in one location. On a macro (and more important) level, though, it serves as a survey of contemporary art – it allows us to determine the progress visual art has made over the past year and where the future will take it. This can be especially helpful for our twin scenes of Tampa/St.Pete.
As discussed before on Art@Bay, we have a tendency to stick to our home scene – it is surprisingly difficult to cross the Howard Frankland for an art show. However, an art fair would afford us an opportunity to evaluate and enjoy the latest and best contemporary art of Tampa Bay at a single location and date.
The reality is that a fledgling contemporary art fair is a logistical challenge and holds out little to no profits for its organizers. A strategy that may make an art fair more financially and organizationally plausible, though, is the Hotel Fair. That is, in short, a fair that would be based in a hotel in which artists and galleries would each be assigned a room.
I suppose this kind of fair could sound a bit dumpy. However, some of today’s most critically acclaimed and exciting art fairs are precisely this kind of fair. Consider New York’s Dependent Art Fair. Despite taking place in a Comfort Inn on the gritty Lower East Side, the fair consistently enjoys enthusiastic reviews from critics and bloggers (critic/artist Will Brand called it “hands-down, the most interesting, highest-quality fair in town.”) Also consider Washington D.C.’s (e)merge Art Fair, San Francisco’s ArtPadSF, or Miami’s Verge Art Fair among many others.
A grant(s) and sponsors could secure rooms for juried individual artists to use for installations or simply to exhibit work. Galleries, collectives, and other artists would simply pay a fee equal to that of the cost of the hotel room in order to participate.
This type of fair would not aim to replace or even be an alternative to international contemporary art fairs or local arts festivals. However if scheduled nearby in date and location to the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, for example, it could be an exciting, popular, and surprising event for visitors of both the festival and the fair.
Such an event would furnish us with the opportunity appraise our local contemporary art, artists, and galleries and enjoy the best of what we make. Would you support such an event with attendance or participation?