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Thursday July 16, 2020 | by Arina Novak

As pandemic persists, art and craft fairs continue shift to virtual alternatives in 2020

The very things that combined to fuel the ascent of art and craft fairs -- teeming crowds, new connections between collectors from far and wide and gallery reps, in-person appearances by artists, a place to survey the art landscape under one roof -- are making these large-scale events ill-suited to the social-distancing guidelines as the United States continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the 2019 report of The Art Basel and UBS Market, “art fairs continue to be a central part of the art market,” as art-fairs proliferated from fewer than 60 in the early 2000s to almost 300 today. In 2020, the pandemic has upended the art fair phenomenon, and the in-person events have given way to online alternatives. While some museums and art galleries are opening to the public with careful measures to ensure social-distancing, many art fairs are migrating to virtual interations. 

The recently-formed Intersect Art and Design Fairs business, which purchased and combined three leading art expos for work in craft media in Chicago, Aspen and Palm Springs, has made significant changes to their format as a result of the pandemic. Due to the increasing concern for safety, The new owners of Intersect Chicago (formerly known as SOFA Chicago), have postponed its usual date in November 2020. Intersect Chicago is an International Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair dedicated to three-dimensional art and design objects. In the email interview with GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet, Intersect’s managing director Becca Hoffman commented on how the COVID-19 pandemic brought the changes to the fairs: 

Becca Hoffman, managing director of Intersect Art and Design Fairs

“First off, [the change] is the transition to an online-only art fair. Secondly, we have over tripled in size due to the infinite nature of the internet and because we have been able to attract a diverse, dynamic group of local, national, and international galleries who are excited about the prospect of both the online edition of Intersect Aspen, and about being part of Intersect Aspen in the future, when it can be in-person and on-site, ideally in 2021.”

In regards to the change of the Intersect Chicago date, Hoffman ensured, “we are working hard to evaluate the best dates for our galleries, collectors, visitors, and partners, based on current CDC guidelines and our concern for the health and well-being of everyone involved. We hope to announce our dates in the coming weeks.”

This year’s Intersect Aspen, formerly Art Aspen, representing 110 galleries from all over the world, transitioned to an online-only format, functioning as a viewing room. It’s virtual art fair will go live from July 22-26. In addition, Hoffman will be stopping by the participating New York City galleries to record a series of short interviews which will appear under the “Talks and Events” tab on Intersect Aspen website. Hoffman spoke with Hot Sheet about the format of the fair and some of the opening details:

“The emphasis on community and giving back to the region is important to Intersect Aspen. Each of the five cultural partners who are being honored with the One Thing program will present special programming (a video, a short film, an online concert, etc) on their dedicated day of the fair, and they will be beneficiaries of a daily silent auction. The cultural partners are: The Art Base, Aspen Film, Carbondale Arts, The Center for African American Health, and Valley Settlement. Each day will have a specific focus: One Thing to celebrate, One Thing to be thankful for, One Thing to fight for, One Thing to love, and One Thing to look forward to.” 

When asked about the future of art and design fairs, Hoffman believes that “the future of art fairs is regional.” She elaborated, “As we start to emerge from this current moment, building up our local communities is going to be paramount and city-wide cultural events such as art-fairs will help.”

CraftBoston Holiday

In the newsletter, CraftBoston Holiday, a craft fair hosted by the nation’s oldest craft nonprofit organization the Society of Arts+Crafts, announced its decision to postpone it's annual winter selling show until next year. CraftBoston is one of the largest craft fairs in the United States, and is held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. The goal of CraftBoston is to hold an active shopping event that would cultivate an interaction between guests and exhibiting artists. The bustling occasion convenes the fair participants and craft lovers twice a year, making the year of 2020 an extreme exception. In the newsletter, an executive director of SA+C, Brigitte Martin, remarked that postponing the fair is “an artist-supported decision,” by highlighting “that events such as CraftBoston will have many fewer visitors because consumer confidence in large, indoor events has plummeted.” Given that the commercial activity would experience a dramatic fall due to low attendance, the craft fair would appear impractical to the artists. In her statement, Martin emphasized the perspective of the CraftBoston artists, saying, “that tactile experiences and personal interactions are critical to the value and economic success [artists] derive from the show and that they are fully aware that such an experience cannot be had in the current environment.”

Smithsonian Craft Show

The annual Smithsonian Craft Show goes virtual in October. Established in 1983, the Smithsonian Craft Show was a premier juried show and shopping event comprising American crafts. The show, presented by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, will go live on October 21st, opening with a virtual Preview Gala Night followed by the auction exhibiting the works of juried artists. In the statement issued to Hot Sheet, Heidi Austerng, the Smithsonian program coordinator, said, “All the artists who are in the 2020 in-person show will be invited to participate in the October virtual show. Also, these artists are rolling over or grandfathered in the 2021 in-person show.” The former rule required previous exhibitors to reapply and to be reevaluated by the jury, however, the 2021 in-person event will be an exception. Even though the extended online shopping experience will bring auspicious opportunities for exhibiting artists, the 2021 in-person show will allow them to earn more benefits and aid interpersonal networking. 

The American Craft Council

The American Craft Council shows in San Francisco and St. Paul have been cancelled this year to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a national nonprofit organization, the ACC was supposed to represent 1,200 emerging and established artists in this year’s showcase. However, in the recent announcement on their website, the ACC announced the San Francisco Bay Area Craft Week online event that will take place instead of the physical art fairs through September 7-13. The event will be free and open to all. In their statement, the ACC remarked, “we won’t be able to show up in San Francisco in person this year for our annual American Craft Show, so we’re bringing the Bay Area’s vibrant handmade culture straight to you.” The attendees will have a chance to browse the works of 130 participating artists, particularly shining a spotlight on local business, studios, and organizations. Additionally, to support the St. Paul show artists, the ACC launched an online shop featuring a diverse spectrum of art, design, and craft objects, ranging from ceramics to leather goods. Moreover, the ACC published a comprehensive list of COVID-19 Resources, expressing support for the craft communities during the global health crisis. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Fair

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Fair, presented by The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is still planning on holding a showcase this November. The 44th annual event is scheduled to take place from November 6th through November 8th with the grand Gala Preview Party on November 5th. During the Museum’s single largest fundraiser, over the course of three days, 195 fine craft artists foregather to demonstrate their premier work. Funds raised at the fair are used to purchase works of craft and art for the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as supporting exhibition and education programs by financing publication and conservation projects. In their COVID-19 statement published on April 8th, the PMA Craft Show acknowledged that this year’s event “will surely reflect the vision and talents of [the PMA Craft Show] artists in a whole new light.” Moreover, the letter emphasizes that “ticket sales are integral to the success of the show,” however, if the sales are negatively impacted by the pandemic, consequentially low attendance would hinder a stable revenue of the event. 

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.