The Echo Art Fair, an annual sale of artwork by painters, photographers and sculptors from Western New York and beyond, will move to the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library for its third edition Sept. 7 and 8.
The move, announced Monday by Echo founder and local entrepreneur E. Frits Abell, will give the fair more space and bring a jolt of new cultural activity to downtown in late summer.
After last July’s fair, held in the sweltering Larkin Center for Commerce, Abell decided to look for a larger and more amenable space for the event. Abell connected with the Central Library at the suggestion of Oishei Foundation Vice President Paul Hogan after a frustrating search through what he called a city of “quote-unquote vacant buildings” came up empty.
The fair will be held in a 25,000-square-foot space on the library’s second floor, he said, adding that it is ideal for the mission of the growing art fair as well as for a library in the midst of a major transition.
“We met with them, and it was actually a godsend, because it fits perfectly in their new mission. It’ll allow for the right size space as well as the right type of space,” Abell said. “It’ll be raw, it’ll be cavernous, the electricity will work, there’s good light. And I love, frankly, that it’s being held in a beautiful midcentury building.”
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski said Echo’s selection of the library as a venue is directly in line with the library’s plans to become a cultural hub for the entire community. In a controversial process that grew out of budget constraints, the library consolidated all of its materials on its first floor and is in the process of turning the second floor – once home to stacks of books and reference materials – into office space for cultural organizations.
There was some asbestos abatement work to be done, Jakubowski said, before the library could “really create this space for arts and culturals, to bring people in and have exhibition space and whatnot. The fact that we were put together with Echo Art fits so perfectly with where we’re going with this space.”
The popular art fair, which began in 2010 in the Central Terminal and, by Abell’s estimate, drew some 10,000 visitors last year, will include roughly 20 percent more exhibition space. Abell said he hopes that also means the fair will feature more artists and galleries than last year’s fair, which hosted 28 individual artist booths and 15 galleries.
In an attempt to make the fair sustainable – the first two fairs did not break even – Abell said he will increase fees for individual booths to $500 for an 8-by-10-foot booth and $700 for an 8-by-16-foot booth. There will also be a $5 admission charge on Sept. 7, a portion of which will go to the library. Admission on Sept. 8 will be free.
Like last year’s event, Echo will keep its primary focus on Western New York artists but will also draw work by artists and galleries from outside the area. A jury will select the artists and galleries to be included in the fair. The jury includes Burchfield Penney Art Center Director Anthony Bannon, Squeaky Wheel Executive Director Jax Deluca, Albright-Knox Art Gallery Chief Curator Douglas Dreishpoon, University at Buffalo professor Jonathan Katz and Marie Via, director of exhibitions at Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery. One juror remains to be confirmed.
Like last year, the “fair” part of the event will feature a series of site-specific sculptures and installations, which will be on view inside and outside the library. The site-specific work will be overseen by Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. And to help produce the event, Abell has enlisted Sarah JM Kolberg and Brooke LeBoeuf, both of whom have extensive experience on Western New York’s art scene.
Because some artists were dissatisfied that they were not included in last year’s fair or were unhappy with the selection process or execution of the event, a kind of anti-Echo art fair popped up alongside it.
Abell said that so-called out-fairs, regular features of larger art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach, are signs of a vibrant and active arts community and added he would be happy to see other unsanctioned fairs or events emerge in Echo’s shadow.
Overall, Abell said, Echo is an attempt to bring the growing art fair trend to Buffalo and to connect the artistic output of the region to people who are interested in paying for it. The September event will feature an expanded array of workshops, panels and other events aimed at familiarizing would-be collectors with the economics of the art world and demystifying the process of buying art.
“This is where the art market is going, so this is not unique to Western New York. In fact, not at all, so why wouldn’t we follow in the same path? It makes it easier for buyers. Buyers and collectors around the world are saying, this is how we like to shop,” he said. “The buyers are there. I fully believe there is money in Buffalo and the area. There just is an education process that needs to happen.”