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"Artists At Fairs" was an annual programme where the primary purpose was to minimise the high entry cost for artists looking to participate in the larger commercial art fairs.

 

The programme then evolved to meet the needs of artists as they prepared both their work and themselves for the art fair experience. We offered pre-fair workshops to help our artists get better prepared for the art fair environment. These covered; developing networking skills, advice for interacting with potential clients, and how best conduct and present themselves in this particular sales-driven environment.

* This project was run under the name 'IMA Projects' and took place at The Other Art Fair, London from 2015 - 2018.


Artist At Fairs
Artist development programme and exhibition, 2015-18

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IMPROVING ACCESS

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An art fair is an opportunity for an artist to expose themselves and their work to a large number of potential clients, buyers, galleries, supporters, and collaborators over a very short period of time.


The difficulty is that fairs tend to be grouped into two types; those that are open to galleries and therefore only giving access to artists represented by galleries, and those that are open to artists as individuals. Both often come with high costs, but in the former the costs are usually covered by the gallery that represents the artists, whereas in the latter, the artists are expected to cover their own stand costs.

 

By taking a group / collective of artists under a single banner, we would be able to share the cost of having a presence at a prestigious art fair. Going one step further, this would enable our group of emerging artists to gain access to an area of the art world that they wouldn’t normally reach until a little later in their career.

 

Importantly, we take no commission (as the art fairs take a commission) and all our artists receive support from our team and additional guidance from professionals in the industry.

 

These 'Artists At Fairs' programmes were challenging but ultimately enjoyable experiences, as the artists always ended up working alongside TASC as one cohesive team. The artists supported each other practically with logistic issues and they also supported each other emotionally through the highs and lows of the events.

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ARTIST AT FAIR PROGRAMME

After the first fair it became apparent that the world of the art fair was yet another new environment with a different type of audience who have different spending habits, and care about art in very specific ways. Artists were viewed differently in this environment and their art valued according to other, more aesthetic, measures. This required rapid development of a programme that helped artists acclimatise to this new space. 

As part of the programme, we reached out to industry professionals (PR and buyer/collectors) and invited them for group discussions and one-to-one sessions so the individual artists could explore how their work could be better presented for this new sales driven environment.

 

The programme challenged artists, especially those with concept driven work to try and see their work from another perspective. In art fairs people are less likely to engage unless they really like the work, and that is due to the sheer volume of work and artists on display. These lead to very quick and sometimes blunt interactions which can be disheartening for artists and so whilst TASC team members are always on hand to support on-site, the pre-fair programme workshops allowed us a way to address these issues and help recalibrate expectations prior to the fair.

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WORK AS A TEAM

Over the course of running these programmes we found that being part of a collective at an art fair, where most other stands are taken up by one artist, can be a double-edged sword.

 

On the one hand you have many artists to lean on and help you out when needed, but having many artists means that the stand gets crowded which has the unfortunate consequence of making the stand seem intimidating or uninviting for the audience. The artists are literally in their own way.

The way in which TASC approached this was to rethink how a collective could best function as an effective team during an art fair. The guiding thought was to ensure that the focus of the art fair experience wasn't pulled entirely to the stand. With the heavy cost to take up a stand, selling work understandably becomes the primary goal for artists at fairs. But for our artists, who have shared this cost, this doesn't have to be the case.

With effective team management, a collective of artists can get a lot more out of a fair than the regular artist. The TASC mindset is that the team enables freedom. Freedom to explore and make connections with other artists at other stands. As long as channels of communication remain open between the team (via phone), any enquires for sales can be sent to the artist so that they can return to the stand when needed.

There is also less burnout. Being able to rotate the artists on the stand means our artists can take breaks and recharge. They are also free to invite family and friends and show them around the fair personally. Suddenly what is a high pressure and cold environment begins to feel warm and manageable.

The way in which TASC operates at art fairs means artists are able to have the time to explore the fair itself; to find new artist friends and peers as well as have meaningful conversations with artists on other stands, allowing them to gain more insight into why other artists take part in the art fair circuit.

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THE SECRET AGENTS

No matter how much we prepare an artist for the art fair, it is  down to the artist to deal with the public. In an art fair environment the artist may not get much time with an interested party, and if that person walks away without buying work then often the artist is left wondering if they could've said something different that might have led to a different outcome.

In our programme we wanted to find a way to feed back to artists about their interactions. To that end we employed 'secret agents' to visit the fair and specifically interact with our artists.

 

Using a checklist designed by us, with questions for the artists, our 'secret agents' interact with and assess how our artists communicate and interact with the general public. It should be noted that considerable effort and consultation was taken to ensure that we would not unintentionally create scenarios where artists felt devalued, or their confidence undermined. Through our ‘secret agents’ we were able to provide genuine and helpful feedback to the artists about how they come across.

 

As TASC we are able to undertake imaginative and interesting ways to provide artists with the most practical, honest, and impactful support possible.

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WHY TASC DO THINGS THE WAY WE DO

As TASC, we aim to innovate the way we provide access to knowledge and tools in order to facilitate a new breed of artists that are self-reliant and business aware - an art fair  opportunity definitely covers these areas whilst also having a strong commercial leaning.

Through our framework, TASC is able to provide a shared-cost entry point for artists to help expose them early on in their careers to a highly commercial, buyer populated, environment. In doing so, the artists are able to widen the scope of their network to include artists that make a living directly from sales. Through our programmes and initiatives they gain feedback directly through the art market in London, safely alongside their peers.

Importantly, there is no correct route for an artists career. Each path is largely individual. By exposing artists' early to this type of environment they are able to see how their work could exist in this space. This insight is incredibly valuable as it helps illuminate potential income avenues for their practice early on.

Read about one of our participating artists' feedback:

"I have very fond memories of this entire group project at The Other Art Fair. As well as learning a lot about myself and gaining valuable new skills I managed to make new friends along the way.

 

TASC helped make me feel very welcome and made every effort to ensure I felt as much a part of the group as the London based artists. They introduced me to numerous new contacts and had brilliant suggestions at every turn, which I quickly took on board.

 

Their knowledge, conduct and personalities helped to shape the experience and I think their role within the arts is hugely important. Their encouragement, guidance and approach are refreshing and welcome in today’s climate."- Kevin McCollum, photography, Scotland.

See more exhibition archive images below.

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TASC at TOAF02_edited.jpg
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