Interview with Stephanie Manasseh Founder of the Accessible Art Fair

Stephanie launched the first Accessible Art Fair in 2007 in Belgium. The Accessible Art Fair has become a well-known and respected event in the Brussels cultural calendar and Stephanie launched the art fair in New York City in 2016.

The Fine Art Group are delighted to be sponsoring the 2017 Accessible Art Fair in Brussels on 5th – 8th October.

What is unique about the Accessible Art Fair and your mission? What was your inspiration?

The mission of the Accessible Art Fair has always been to make the artists accessible to the collectors and the collectors accessible to the artists.

When I moved to Belgium 12 years ago, I attended an art opening where the artists were present and thought how refreshing it was to meet the artist face to face and hear about the inspiration behind their work. After a bit of research, I realised that there were no artist led fairs and that there were so many artists without gallery representation, so decided to fill that gap with the Accessible Art Fair.

Art fairs usually focus on galleries, why focus on the artists?

Artists are central to the Accessible Art Fair. Without the artist there is no art market, no galleries, no art fairs. By putting the artist in direct contact with the collector you elevate their status but also give both the collector and the artist a chance to interact and give the artist a chance to defend their work. There are plenty of art fairs that are gallery focussed that do a wonderful job at promoting artists, at my fair you have the opportunity to meet the artist face to face.

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome by creating an art fair centred around the artist and not the gallery? How has that impacted the way the fair has developed?

The biggest challenge was to gain the trust of the artists. Eleven years ago, when I started the fair, artists were not easily convinced that participating in a fair where they were not represented by a gallery would be the best career move. Fast forward 11 years, and we have over 700 applications per show and a waiting list of artists wishing to participate. Artists have realised that they are their own brand, and in order to get their work out there they need to be creative and proactive. Since the beginning of the fair many of our artists have gone to work on other very exciting projects and some work with important galleries around the world. For many artists, the Accessible Art Fair has become a launch pad for their career.

And what are your ambitions going forward for the fair? Is there a big distinction from its New York counterpart? Will you be expanding to other locations such as London?

Last year I took the art fair to New York, which proved to be an incredible success. Although it was much smaller, I noticed that New Yorkers were so excited about having an art fair with a European flair in their city. I am currently sourcing another venue to take the fair to the Big Apple again. I would be interested to take it to other cities and develop conferences and mentorship programmes relating to emerging artists. I would love to launch it in London too as I think even though there are so many art fairs on the scene, Londoners would appreciate the offerings at ACAF.

What makes Brussels a good location for the fair?

Brussels has the highest number of collectors per- capita but also, one third of the population is expat working for the EU institutions, with these two factors, as well as the fact that Belgians are curious and open by nature, that makes it a perfect environment to host an art fair. Art Brussels being the main art fair bringing collectors locally and from all around the globe, shows that there is a market for art.

Could you tell us a bit about the foundation Justine for Kids and why you chose to work with them?

Every year we work with a different foundation and support one cause during our opening night. Not only do proceeds of ticket sales go to the cause, but we do a whole awareness campaign beforehand.

Justine For Kids was started by Belgian Tennis Star Justine Henin and her goal was to offer exciting experiences to sick children. We are thrilled to support this cause and hope to work with them long term when we expand to other cities.

We were so pleased that you chose Leticia Hoffman to join your selection committee, perhaps you could tell us a bit about the other members and why you have chosen this combination?

We were thrilled to work with Letitia Hoffmann on this year’s panel. Her insight was both refreshing and poignant. Other members of the jury included me, John Vollman (Antiques dealer), Kathryn Smith (Owner Ampersand House gallery) Sophie Clauwaert (Old Masters expert), and Rod McIntosh (contemporary artist).

What are the highlights for this years’ fair?

We are thrilled to be holding the event at the prestigious Bozar which is part of the Palais de Beaux Arts and designed by Victor Horta.

We are also very excited about the artist selection for this year. We have some wonderful artists coming from as far afield as Japan, Canada, USA, Colombia, Germany…

Interview by Francesca Hawkins and Herbert van Litsenburg

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