Let’s Get a Room: Time for a Tampa Bay Art Fair

LETSGETAROOMTampa Bay: I think it’s about time we got a room…or rooms.  I’m not talking about an affair but more of a…fair.

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?    

Let’s Get a Room: Time for a Tampa Bay Art Fair

6 thoughts on “Let’s Get a Room: Time for a Tampa Bay Art Fair

  1. Interesting idea. Would not agree that putting it near Gasparilla, date wise, is a good idea at all. But that is a minor point. The major point is that, like artist based art festivals, there are already TOO MANY indoor gallery based art fairs around the country and the globe. Every major city has at least one, and some have over 10. Besides the lack of income demographic locally, sorry to say that Tampa just doesn’t have the panache (YET? She said politely) to pull off a “me too” international fair. Especially when the Art Fair bubble is arguably about to pop. another minor point, you are not going to get many galleries IMO to rent a room next to individual artists. It would have to be one or the other. Or separate venues.
    A broader and, to me, more interesting and somewhat less DONE idea is an ARTS festival like Jazz Fest in NOLA or Spoleto in Charleston. More diverse more TOURIST based. My 2c.

    1. I agree with you that Tampa Bay is not ready for an international art fair and also that the world doesn’t need another one. However, I’m suggesting that the fair focus on local contemporary work. And while the world doesn’t need another fair, the Tampa Bay visual art community can definitely benefit from one.
      I’d like to think that galleries would exhibit alongside artists – Scope, Emerge, even Basel do it. I can’t speak for local gallerists, but for their international counterparts it’s common practice.
      Also, like you and Sheree pointed out, perhaps Feb would be a bad time. I’m sure I’m underestimating the annual tourist surge.

      1. Danny, You are a great guy and I appreciate and READ your blogs. I have to correct you though. The TOP TIER art fairs are GALLERY and DEALER ONLY. Scope, Emerge Basel do NOT do it.

        I am one of those go big or go home types. I just would be embarrassed if Tampa put on ANOTHER local artist show. There are so many already on both sides of the bay, indoor and out. (for example there are now two Cool art shows indoors, put on by PAVA) As a gallery owner, I am not gonna rent a room with an artist in the room next door. Not gonna happen. And why would I do that? I already have a “room”. 🙂 My gallery.

        What we need to focus on I agree is getting TOURISTS to come to the area for the arts. 80% of art bought by the 99% is purchased on vacation. I am with John Collins in hoping the city will help sponsor a festival of ALL arts in St. Petersburg. I think one is in the works but getting slow burn.

      2. Donna, you’re right – I was incorrect about Scope and Basel (though Verge and Emerge do accept individual artists). I’m sorry for the poorly researched info before I commented.

        Yeah, after some thought, it is becoming clear that getting local galleries to participate in a local fair is unrealistic for a number of reasons (including the ones you mentioned).

        I don’t know how the PAVA shows are curated (or if they are) but I was really writing this article as a proposition for a fair that acted as a departure from the Two Cool Art shows. Regardless, though the idea doesn’t pan out, I’m glad to see people talking about it.

        Anyhow, any ideas of how to get art purchases up in the area? I feel like tourists would buy trinkets or relatively inexpensive art but never amount to actual collectors. Do you find this to be true?

  2. I think this would be a GREAT idea! I read Jerry Saltz’ review of the DEPENDENT last year and it sounded like so much fun. However one thing to consider is until this year, the Dependent was held during fair season. I am sure this helped to fan the flames of interest. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a fair season. Also getting the space during other busy, tourist times might prove to be difficult. The Dependent wasn’t held this year because of lack of hotel space. http://www.artfagcity.com/2013/03/21/whatever-happened-to-the-dependent/
    Still, I think this is a fantastic idea!

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