What is stARTup Art Fair?
stARTup Art Fair connects art collectors to highly-vetted artists from across the country through art fairs, curated art exhibitions, advising, and private art sales and rentals.
A unique contemporary art experience, stARTup events merge the backdrop of boutique hotels with contemporary art as a meeting place for independent artists, art professionals, and art enthusiast to gather for performances, installations, and talks.
We got a chance to talk with the founder of stARTup Art Fair, Ray Beldner about this unique art fair that was designed to give up-and-coming artists or re-emerging artists who had lost their galleries a way to connect directly with art collectors.
What gave you the idea to start stARTup Art Fair?
RB: As an artist, I used to have gallery representation in SF, LA and NY. At some point, I found myself at without any gallery affiliation and I was missing having my work shown at art fairs. So much of the economics of the art world is dependent on art fairs, as well as the livelihood of many artists, myself included, I went looking for an art fair where I could bring my work directly to the public and represent and sell my artwork myself.
What I found was that while there were plenty of art fairs for artists, the quality was awful and the settings were not very approachable or professional. I saw an opportunity to change that by creating an art fair for artists that I would actually want to participate in.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what an art fair is and what makes stARTup unique?
RB: An art fair is really like a trade show. It's typically an event where galleries set up a booth space to show the work of their artists and to sell art and make connections in the art world. Gallery art fairs have proliferated in the last 15 years and are now all over the world and in every major city in the United States. They run anywhere from 3-6 days and feature up to 100 galleries in one convention hall, which can make for a tiring, burn-out experience.
What makes stARTup unique? Oh, boy, where do I start?
The first and most important thing that sets us apart, is that we are an art fair for artists, created and run by artists.
Our fair is smaller; we feature 50-60 artists each fair and it takes place in a hotel, not a large cold impersonal convention hall. We do not feature galleries at our fair, only independent artists who each take a room to create a solo exhibition. The hotel format is interesting because visitors have the opportunity to see the artwork in a real-world setting and talk to the artists in an intimate inviting environment.
And, unlike more artist art fairs, we do not take a cut of any of the artworks sold at the show. Artists do all the work, make all the sales, and keep 100% of the sales proceeds.
Your website says that the selection process is vetted by “art world experts”. Can you share some past examples of who looks at the applications?
RB: We field a different selection committee at each fair that is generally comprised of two gallerists, two curators, and two well-known, established artists. We are very proud of our past jurors, some of whom include:
- Janet Bishop, Curator of Painting and Sculpture, SF MOMA
- Dan Cameron, former Chief Curator, Orange County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
- Dean Daderko, Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
- Michelle Grabner, conceptual artist and Curator, 2016 Portland Biennial, Chicago, IL
- Diana Al Hadid, Renown mixed media and installation artist, New York
- Hank Willis Thomas, New York-based photo conceptual artist
- Mark Moore, Owner/Director, Mark Moore Fine Art Advisory, Los Angeles
- Andrew Rafacz, Owner, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Toma Wolff Director, Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO
You mentioned that the artist gets to keep 100% of the sales of their work. Tell us more—how do you make this possible?
RB: Yes, one of the main features of our fair is that artists keep all of their sales.
Many of the other art fairs charge an exhibitor fee AND take anywhere from 10-20% of any sales made at the show. Not only is that double charging the artists, but it also defeats the idea of an "independent" artist fair when the organizer, in effect, acts as an art dealer.
What’s your strategy for getting buyers and collectors to the fair?
RB: It's multi-fold. First and foremost, we strive to create a professional and approachable environment that both seasoned collectors and first-time buyers can understand and appreciate.
We also market this to our subscribers on a mailing list of 30,000+ people. We advertise in magazines, radio, and social media. In recent years, we started a VIP program for higher level guests where they can have a richer experience of the fair that includes access to VIP lounges and several pre-fair events, like special dinners with artists, studio visits, and collector tours.
Tell us about sales. Do artists typically make sales and if so, what’s the range? And what kind of work sells best.
RB: Good question. We discovered from our artist surveys that about 75-80% of the artists in the fair make sales and that the median amount per artist is over $3500.
Now, that means that some artists may sell a great amount and some very little—it's hard to pinpoint why one person is more successful at a given fair than another. The median sale price is around $500 and what we find is that work between $500 and $2000 sells very well. That being said, we've had art sales of $10,000 for a large sculpture, and in one instance, $20,000 for another.
What is the fair like for visitors? What can we expect to experience when we go?
RB: It's fun of course! It's immersive and lively; we have lots of installations and performances in the public areas of the hotel, as well as several interesting panel discussions over the course of the weekend.
When you get tired of visiting the artists' rooms, you can relax in the courtyard under the palm trees and enjoy both sponsored complimentary wines and a full no-host bar and delicious food vendors. The opening night celebration will kick off with a marching band, and then we'll have a rocking DJ until 10 pm. Saturday night, we have a DJ playing from 6-9pm.
What are some of the biggest artist success stories resulting from the fairs that you have heard so far?
RB: There are really so many, but one that comes to my mind is an LA artist who did stARTup LA in 2016 and got many commissions, sales and shows from the connections she made at the show. She recently emailed me to say she just completed the biggest commission of her career from a person she met at stARTup three years ago.
The other artist who comes to mind is an artist who sold a $20,000 tapestry to a museum at our last fair. There are many other success stories where artists were invited into museum shows, got gallery representation, and made big sales. For us though, it's not just about sales, but the connections artists make with art world professionals and each other.
Where do they go from now?
Now in three major cities across the Western U.S. (San Francisco, Los Angeles Houston, stARTup has established a great reputation among artists and collectors alike. An artist himself, founder Ray Beldner initially created stARTUp Art Fair with the hope that it would be something he himself would participate in as an artist—and as a vibrant and eclectic feel to the art fair, it's safe to say, "mission accomplished".