The Buffalo & Erie County Central Library and Lafayette Square will become ground zero for Western New York’s visual art community this weekend, as it welcomes a flurry of activity surrounding the third annual Echo Art Fair.
The juried fair, founded by Buffalo-booster E. Frits Abell in 2011 to encourage more Western New Yorkers to collect work by regional artists, will include 30 individual artists, 12 galleries and 12 site-specific sculptures and art installations in and around the Central Library.
The main fair, running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will occupy about 25,000 square feet of raw, light-filled space on the library’s second floor. That space formerly housed the library’s business, science and technology materials and computers that have been relocated to the library’s first floor.
Abell said the library provides an ideal location for the fair because of its central location, proximity to light rail and accessibility by bike. The first two versions of the fair were held in the Central Terminal and Larkin Center of Commerce, destinations far from the beaten path. This year’s event, by contrast, will sidestep any potential transportation issues by temporarily taking over a well-known downtown institution.
The new location was suggested by Paul Hogan, a vice president at the John R. Oishei Foundation, a major cultural funder and Western New York’s largest foundation.
“I immediately responded to the idea because I love the building,” Abell said. “I love the concept of the fair being centrally located downtown. And then I saw the space, and what they were doing with the space in terms of basically opening it up and leaving it raw for us, was really ideal for the fair.”
The library, which is consolidating its materials and exploring new possibilities for the vacant space on its second floor and other areas, also stands to benefit from the fair.
“We’re really excited about this happening here because it may mean more than 10,000 people coming through the library over the weekend,” said Joy Testa Cinquino, the library’s development and communications director. “I hope that they take some time to get a library card and look around.”
Among one of the more intriguing projects at this year’s fair is an interactive art project by former Buffalonian Chris Barr called “Meaningful Offers,” in which fairgoers can barter for artwork in exchange for services like Web design or consulting.
Site-specific installations will include pieces by Toronto’s Christof Migone, Ithaca’s Jeremy Holmes, Fort Erie’s Millie Chen, New York City’s Carmen Einfinger and Buffalonians Jeff Maciejewski, Liz Rywelski, Marissa Lehner, Sara Fonzi, Tara Sasiadek and Tra Bouscaren. Rochester’s Scott McCarney and Roberely Bell also will have an installation.
The scope of Echo is not limited to booths featuring artists and galleries peddling their wares punctuated by a few site-specific sculptures. Abell, along with fellow organizers Sarah JM Kolberg, Brooke LeBoeuf and installations coordinator John Massier of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, has organized events and activities surrounding the main fair.
Taking a cue from larger art fairs, Echo includes several exclusive events, such as a guided tour of the Burchfield Penney Art Center from director Anthony Bannon on Friday morning, a $75 preview of the fair at 6 p.m. Friday and a party and exhibition co-sponsored by Echo and the arts collective Only Comrades in the Waiting Room (334 Delaware Ave.). The fair also will feature two panels aimed at demystifying art collecting Saturday, along with a question-and-answer session between popular art blogger Paddy Johnson and Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Despite the fact that the fair was not able to entice several Toronto-based galleries which made the trip to Buffalo for last year’s fair to return, Abell said the fair’s reputation continues to grow significantly. He also noted that while applications from international artists increased, this year’s fair includes a much higher proportion of local artists than might be expected because the quality of local work outshone that of many outside applicants.
“I definitely see the prominence of the event growing regionally, so we’re getting a lot more outreach from artists in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Toronto and Syracuse,” he said.
“It helps position Buffalo in a positive light. It helps Buffalo artists to have their work judged in comparison to out of town artists. This year they proved to be incredibly strong.”
What: Echo Art Fair
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square
Tickets: $5 on Saturday; free on Sunday