Stephanie Manasseh, founder and director of the Brussels AAF:
We make art more accessible to the public
Not everybody has enough time to visit galleries, so I brought artists under one roof in a weekend
Maria Koleva, Brussels
19 October, 2012
Close-up: Stephanie Manasseh is a Canadian living in Belgium since 8 years. She started Accessible Art Fair five years ago. Initially her idea was to bring together expat artists and expat visitors in Brussels and thus give painters the opportunity to show their works but also to foreigners living in Belgium to buy from expat artists. Since then it expanded and the fair attracts Belgian and international people in terms of artists and visitors. In the end of September, Accessible Art Fair was held in Brussels Conrad Hotel. - How did the concept of Accessible Art Fairs become a success?- I saw a niche market within the expat community because the people had the spending power, the education, interest to buy works of art but they didn't necessarily go from the neighbourhoods where the Commission is to galleries and other art fair to buy art. So I thought why not bring the art to them. For the first time I organised it at rue Froissart just by the Commission in a training centre hall. There we had nine artists exhibiting and we had about 200 visitors. It was quite small but quite successful for the first time. The second time we had 30 artists and we attracted about 1000 people. But I realised that there is a potential for Belgians as well to come and buy art work directly from the artist because not everybody has enough time to visit galleries, so I brought them under one roof in a weekend. They can buy it and take it home and hang it up immediately. Our concept is instead of putting the red dot when a work is paid and ask the client to wait until the show is over they can take it with them right away. People see it as first come, first served.- What is the main message of this creative platform?- The message is that artists need a nice place to show their works and people like a nice place to go to and we need to make art accessible to everybody. We have works for €80 but we have such for €10,000, so there is something for every budget.- How do you make the selection of artists?- We have a small jury and we get about 200 applications for a show. We try not to put too many criteria because this can block the process. Of course, we are supporting artists who participated in previous shows but we also select many new painters. Our requirement is that the prices of the works have to be less than €10,000 and we make selection between sculptures, photography and paintings.- How many young talents got their successful start in art through the fair?- Actually, quite a few. During the fair I was talking to an artist who had participated several times and now she has a gallery that promotes her works. But we have a lot of artists who are already in galleries that still want to participate at our art show because they want to see the reaction of the public. In the gallery you have a vernissage and that's it. Here for three days they can meet a lot of the art lovers, speak with them and sell their works directly. We are also very pleased to work with the Mont Blanc company. We have two competitions - one is the public choice award. It is on Facebook platform where people can vote for their favourite artist that participates at Accessible Art Fair and we have also a jury prize. At the show the jury choose one artist who will participate next year - a young lady. She will also have the opportunity to exhibit at Mont Blanc's shops around the world and it is really great that Accessible Art Fair team up with Mont Blanc.- How does the crisis affect nowadays the art works market?- Definitely, there is a difference in the way people are buying. I think the middle class is a little bit more reluctant to put money into a work of art so we saw a lot of cheaper works but we also saw a lot of very expensive ones as well. But I think this is going to change, not soon, not tomorrow but the trend will come back.- What is the role of the collectors and art lovers at the fairs?- It's really essential. Just an example - a big collector came at the end of the first day when all the artists had already gone and he met with me directly. He went around and bought a lot of art works just because he wants to support young talents. So we are getting more of that. People are investing in young artists because they see them as the big ones of the future. The art lovers come back, we have clients who are following us from the beginning all these five years.- What's the place of charity on the fair's agenda?- I always try to support a charity because we have very high visibility with an average of 5,000 visitors coming to our show. This year we gave UNICEF a platform to promote their charity activity. Luckily they had a lot of photographs from other events that they had and could sell them, together with other products. So the money that was generated from sales of those works went directly to UNICEF.- Do you have an idea to expand the circle of participants and to include more artists?- As I said, we have no such strict criteria and we are open to have artists from anywhere. In September we had an artist who came from Estonia, for example. Whoever applies if they have a body of work and they are willing to come, they are welcome to.- Do you plan to arrange Accessible Art Fair beyond Belgium again?- Yes, we were in Tel Aviv earlier this year and in the weekend of the 26th October is coming the edition of Accessible Art fair in Bratislava. So if you are in the area come and meet us and the artists at Crown Plaza Hotel. More than 40 local artists will demonstrate their works - fine art, photography, graphic. We have an idea to arrange soon our show in Luxembourg and London.