Paulette Terry Brien, co-director of International 3 and co-curatorial coordinator of The Manchester Contemporary, sets the context for Fair Cities, now available to view as a set of a-n member video resources. “If we think about those cities that are frequently reported as major art cities, such as Paris or New York, you’ll find that there are many commonalities,” she explains.

“All have significant artist communities, good quality public institutions, a range of other visual art organisations (artist-led, project spaces), and a dedicated art-going audience. What they also have is a developed commercial infrastructure, which facilitates the selling, buying and collecting of contemporary art.”

Fair Cities took place in September 2016 and explores how and why certain cities have become art market centres and what kind of art market Manchester and the North West of England could develop.

The symposium was borne out of recent and continuing research and development activity being undertaken collectively by agencies and galleries (artist-led and commercial) in Manchester. It considered the various platforms and tiers that make up the art market, and included speakers from the artist-led sector, blue-chip commercial galleries and international art fairs.

With Terry Brien chairing the event, speakers included: Leila Alexander, sales executive at White Cube (London and Hong Kong); Liv Vaisberg, co-director of Independent, Brussels, and co-founder of Poppositions, Brussels; and Alys Williams director of Vitrine, based in London and Basel.

The benefits of market engagement

In the video resources, Leila Alexander discusses top tier art market activity, considering London and her experience of the blue-chip gallery system in relation to the infrastructure of Manchester.

Drawing on her experience of the commercial sector and international markets, she shares her perception of how the ecology in Manchester and the North West is currently constituted, its strengths and weaknesses, and what the potential benefits of a more developed commercial infrastructure would be to the regional contemporary art scene.

Liv Vaisberg provides an overview of the art scene in Brussels and how recent press attention has reframed the city anew, in relation to the growth of the art market. As an independent curator, co-founder of Poppositions art fair and co-director of Independent art fair, she is well placed to speak about the Brussels context and why the city has developed as a dominant art market centre.

Vaisberg also shares why she chose to set up Poppositions art fair and its impact over the past five years, and why Independent art fair chose Brussels to set up its only edition outside New York. Through consideration of the different market sectors the two fairs serve, we learn of the impact that hosting these fairs in the city has on the resident artist community and infrastructure.

Having been based in London since 2010, Alys Williams, director of Vitrine, recently opened a second gallery space in Basel. She discusses her decision to expand to the city, Basel’s role as a key player in the international art market, the contributing factors to this status (including hosting Art Basel since 1970), and how this benefits the artists she works with.

“It’s exciting at the moment… the way things are changing very quickly,” says Williams. “Artists and galleries are moving out of London, rethinking the model of the way things are done…”

Williams explores the unique cultural infrastructure of Basel and how these conditions have led to a strong gallery and market sector, attracting both local and international collectors. She also observes how regional businesses and foundations further contribute to the economic support of the arts and artists’, and what we might learn from this in Manchester (and the rest of the UK) as we develop markets to support contemporary visual arts.

The panel discussion goes on to explore the ecology of these key art market centres in relation to the context of Manchester and the North West of England, as the region seeks to stimulate a market for contemporary visual art and develop and strengthen an emerging regional collector base. The ecologies of all the cities are considered in relation to their level of market activity and the potential benefits to artists living in these cities.

Fair Cities took place on 24 September 2016 and was organised by The International 3 on behalf of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network North West (CVAN NW) and was delivered in partnership with CVAN NW, The Manchester Contemporary and a-n The Artists Information Company. It was supported by CVAN NW via Arts Council England, The Manchester Contemporary, University of Salford and a-n The Artists Information Company.

1. Fair Cities symposium. Photo: courtesy of The Manchester Contemporary, 2016
2. Independent art fair, Brussels, 2016
3. Edwin Burdis ‘AutoLaque’, 2016. Installation view, Vitrine, Brussels

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