Last weekend the Baltimore D:Center hosted the 5th annual Open Space Print and Multiples Fair (PMF). With lectures, exhibitions, talks and of course art in multiples for sale at a variety of prices, this locally organized creative pow-wow has become a hugely anticipated event for regional and local art makers and collectors. Sometime in the Fall of 2013 I was having a conversation with two of the Open Space members, Nick Peelor and Margo Benson Malter, about Artscape 2014 and they expressed a interest in finding a way to highlight Baltimore’s growing small gallery community and bring some of the excitement of PMF to our annual sweltering summer arts fest. The concept for Alternative Art Fair grew from there and we are excited that Nick and Margo are on board to organize and curate our inaugural gathering of small gallery and alternative exhibitions spaces at Artscape. To shed some more light on the thinking that went into planning the fair I did a short interview with the curators, their answers are below accompanied by crowd sourced documentation from #PMFV. -Ryan Patterson
Over the last five years the Open Space Prints and Multiples Fair has grown into a highly anticipated destination arts event in Baltimore. I know that PMF is a ton of work but always a lot fun for everyone involved. What was your inspiration for this “gallery fair” style event?
Nick: I think a big part of the inspiration behind this event was trying to figure out a way for galleries to be more involved in Artscape. Due to the outdoor nature of Artscape, It can be difficult to show gallery work. We went to Art Basel this December, and seeing the work at the NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) Fair was super inspiring as well. We wanted to do a fair that would operate with a similar vibe to the Publications and Multiples fair, but showcase all of the amazing galleries in Baltimore and abroad. It’s cool to see so many spaces around the country with alternative models doing such great work. It seems that in the last few years, Baltimore is heading in this really rad direction in terms of all of the art spaces that are popping off; we thought it’d be a good idea to tap into that energy and show it to a wider audience.
So as curators of the Alternative Art Fair what are you goals for the project?
Margo: The fifth Prints and Multiples Fair happened last weekend, and the curation of that event read really strongly in the quality of the work presented. There wasn’t one table there that didn’t have something interesting to offer. Both vendors and attendees commented on this to me over the course of the weekend and I would like to have that same level of variety and also the same level of quality across the board at the Artscape Fair. With events like this you’re putting trust in the vendors or galleries you select to come through and the process of picking those spaces carefully will help ensure that.
In what ways do you believe that participating art spaces will benefit from their involvement in the fair?
Margo: I hope they sell stuff! This is a really concrete benefit which will hopefully happen but also we hope that this fair will help create a feeling of a larger community existing both within Baltimore and with out of town folks. Nick: Mostly, I think it’ll be a great chance to show off work to Artscape’s 350,000+ attendees. There’s been some talk lately about the exclusivity of artist run spaces, although I do not necessarily agree with that sentiment, I do think this will be a great opportunity to be as open to the public as possible. I’m hoping that spaces will gain new audience members in the future from seeing them at this event.
Why do you think it is important to give alternative art spaces an opportunity to exhibit themselves and their artists in the context of a city-wide arts festival?
Margo: It’s important to contextualize ourselves in the broader community because we know there is that dialog around this specific crowd in Baltimore being inaccessible or exclusive. Even if people feel those characterizations are true the reason a lot of galleries are not street level storefronts is that warehouse space is all the gallery can afford. I’m hoping organizing this fair in conjunction with something as mainstream as Artscape will turn the conversation towards seeing the value in all of the work of these organizations. It is also nice to give people an accessible way to engage with the amazing work these spaces and curators are putting out there. Nick: Mostly, I think there are amazing spaces in Baltimore showing great work and I’d like to help get them more exposure. I want to celebrate spaces that organize amazing shows around the country, that do so because they love art. Some people might have negative associations with the “Art World” and I’d like to present an alternate Art World that is centered in appreciation for experimentation and alternative models for working and organizing.
As founding members of the Open Space collective tell us about your experience being a part of and managing events for a Baltimore based alternative art space? What have been your observations?
Margo: So Open Space is a very “DIY” space. We are funded through the community that patronizes our openings and events mostly through throwing parties. We also get occasional donations from individuals. But by and large we just basically put on art shows and throw parties. This is a really great model because there is very little time spent doing administrative work, soliciting donations, writing grants, or trying to please donors. We have never had to answer to a board or anyone really other than each other. This allows us to focus our energies more on curating work and producing engaging programming, like this fair! NP: We don’t make any money as individuals for the work that we do with Open Space, which is a bummer. There aren’t a lot of people buying work in Baltimore from alternative art spaces. We all work full time jobs and maintain our individual art practices in addition to doing Open Space programming. It’s a labor of love for sure. It’s really fun to show great art and make good things happen in Baltimore, the payment right now is seeing amazing things come together and having a hand in it. Baltimore is rad because everyone running a DIY space is doing so because they love art; it’s not about making money.
What are other ways to get to know the local DIY arts scene beyond attending the fair?
Nick : I’d recommend checking out these spaces: sophiajacob, Rock512Devil, Springsteen, Current Space, Area 405, Guest Spot at the Reinstitute, Lease Agreement, Gallery Four, Bodega Gallery, Lil’ Gallery, Penthouse, and the Annex 2e. There are probably some spaces I’m forgetting, but these will give you a great introduction to Baltimore’s DIY art scene. Some of these spaces have been around for 20+ years, while others have been around for a few months. There’s a new event that Kimi Hanauer has been organizing for a few months called ALLOVERSTREET, where many of the galleries in Station North have openings on the same night. It’s a good event to help you navigate the confusing corridors of the CopyCat and Annex and see some amazing work.
The Alternative Art Fair will take place on the first floor of the Charles Street Parking Garage at 1710 N. Charles Street during the 33rd Annual Artscape in Baltimore, July 18-20, 2014. AAF is crated by Nick Peelor and Margo Benson Malter with support and oversight from Marian April Glebes and production support from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and Guppy Management. Applications to participate in the Alternative Art Fair are being accepted through Monday, March 17th at this link: ALTERNATIVE ART FAIR APPLICATION