Artist Project 2020

This past weekend was the Artist Project 2020, a yearly art fair hosted at the Better Living Centre in Toronto. Over 300 booths are featured with contemporary artists from Canada and abroad. Here you have the chance to talk to the artist directly and purchase work to add to your growing collection. It is my ninth year going to the Artist Project, so I thought it was time to write about my overall experience at the fair. 

And to be honest, it is a lot. 

When you enter the Better Living Centre, after waiting in line to scan your ticket and sadly proceeding to pay four dollars to check your coat because it is a literal sauna inside - you are welcomed by an overcrowded, loud space. 

Happily, there is a map that will guide you through the rows and rows of booths, and with no real apparent categorization of the artists, it feels like being in a salad spinner. Within the same row, you jump from landscape photography to abstract geometrical paintings to ceramic donuts and to finally carved metal car hoods. Now that could be my OCD coming out. Still, I would appreciate some grouping of similar artists together, not only in medium or theme or maybe experience, for example, if they are a veteran artist at the show. 

I am not bashing any artists, and I think it is great that they have the opportunity to share their work and make some money. However, it appears that a large section of these artists come back every year, and often with the same job. After nine years, I am sorry to say that I am tired of seeing the Group of Seven look-a-likes, the dated metal sculptures, and the paintings upon paintings of cows. There are new artists mixed in every year, but often they show up one year and are gone the next. 

It is especially true to the artists featured in the Untapped section of the fair. A section that highlights emerging artists by awarding them a free wall at the show to display their work. That is off in the corner, by the bathrooms, a lemonade stand, and a food court - you know the prime location for showcasing new upcoming talent. 

If you walk row by row through this fair, you will be mentally and physically exhausted by the time you reach the emerging artist section - which is terrible. For an art fair, that claims to be one of the biggest supporters of contemporary art - why are you putting the new blood of the art community in the corner. They should be your front and centre, not your sponsored content or your overpriced bar/cafe. 

Now, I’m not one to state my opinion and not give suggestions about how to fix the flaws that I see - so here are some of the changes I would make to the Artist Project. 

Let’s start at the beginning - so imagine this. 

You walk into Better Living Centre for the Artist Project 2021. You wait in line, scan your ticket, and you left your coat in the car because you know better this year, and you won’t be caught dead paying for overpriced coat check again. 

The volunteer passes you the complimentary map, and you look up to see the Untapped section right in front of you. A grouping of booths that replaced the old cafe/bar, and taco truck that welcomed you last year. These walls flooded with new art, made by eager emerging artists who are waiting to meet you and share their work. 

After you give them your full attention because you have the energy to this year, you walk behind the Untapped section and enter the familiar rows upon rows of artist booths. However, you realize that they are set up differently than in previous years. 

Every row is curated by medium and subject matter in an easily digestible format—a row for abstract painting, another for portrait photography, etc. You know what to expect going into each row thanks to the banners overhead, and it feels less overwhelming because the experience is streamlined for your benefit. If you have no interest in sculptures, then you can happily skip that row without feeling like you may have missed a great painter hiding underneath. 

Furthermore, I would put a limit on how often an artist can exhibit at the show - especially if they are using the same body of work. Whether this is a 5-year maximum, meaning that once the artist shows at the fair five times, they must wait several years before they can reapply. Or that artists must take a mandatory year hiatus between fairs with no maximum showing limit, for example, if you were in Artist Project 2020, you could not reapply until 2022. It would guarantee a consistent artist turn over, and create opportunities for emerging artists who are often fighting against show veterans for a spot. 

I know my ideas are not perfect, and I left some key points out - but as someone who has visited the Artist Project for almost a decade, I think it is time they change some things up. So. 

Dear Artist Project 2021,

I doubt you will drastically change the format of your fair. However, I do hope you keep some of my ideas in mind. Most importantly, please keep your food court in the food court and stop selling lemonade beside emerging artists. Highlight the knowledge that your artists have and create talks that not only inform the audience but fuel their curiosity. Let artist lead curated tours, give artists talks, and invite more collectives to have a booth in your fair. 

If you are going to showcase contemporary art, then it is time to think about it in a modern manner. You must fuel the emerging, and respect the veterans - and add something to the community that is more than another fair to buy pretty things to hang above your couch. Educate your audience, support your artists, and listen to your community. I’m excited to see what you will do.


A tired emerging artist

And you have any ideas or comments on this year’s Artist Project, let me know down below! See you next week. 

- Sarah Zanchetta

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