Art for all and all for art
Making art accessible. That’s what Stephanie Manasseh has been doing for the last seven years withthe Brussels Accessible Art Fair. Meet the 50 artists, browse the works (priced between €50 and €5,000) and maybe walk home the same day with a perfect piece of art for you.
The Accessible Art Fair has filled a gap the market didn’t know it had
The idea was born not long after Manasseh, a Canadian, arrived in Brussels. "I was pregnant at that time and joined a group for pregnant expats," she explains. "I found out people were really into art but not too fond of galleries. That's when I started my coffee mornings, where I brought artists and art lovers together in a comfortable environment."
The first year, Manasseh found the artists in small galleries and cultural centres. "I could see their talent and wanted to offer them the opportunity to meet possible buyers. At the same time, visitors could talk to the artist directly rather than to the gallery owner."
In 2004, about 200 people came to see the work of nine artists. Last year, those numbers were 5,000 visitors and 50 artists. "Artists can apply to join the fair and are chosen based on their work and their availability during the fair. The artists have to be there all time; that's what makes the fair unique."
To house this mix of Flemish, French- speaking and international artists, Manasseh had to look for a big enough venue. "I chose the Conrad Hotel because it fits the idea of making luxury accessible," she explains. "The fair is all about breaking down barriers. On top of that, Conrad also has the biggest ballroom in the city."
Personal art shopping
Following the ideology, you don't need to be much of an art connoisseur to enjoy the event. "We have a lot of first-time buyers," Manasseh says. "People can chat with artists and ask them questions about the works, which makes them confident and comfortable. Many of the visitors come back, as well. They trust the quality of the fair, and, in a way, buying art is addictive. Once you get the taste of it, you'll want more."
Expect paintings, pictures and sculptures in all sizes and styles. "Paintings usually sell the best," says Manasseh. Buyers spend an average of €900, but if such a big purchase scares you, Manasseh has a suggestion. "If people see something they like but aren't sure it will match their interior, they can make an appointment, and I'll come round with one or a few works to see if and how they fit. This concept of personal art shopper also works well for people or companies who haven't been to the fair but spotted a work on our website and are keen to see it."
With two Accessible Art Fairs a year in Brussels, a plan to launch it in Antwerp this autumn and a job as personal art shopper, Manasseh has carved out a niche career in the capital of Europe. And, it seems, the world. "The concept is being franchised," she says. "Tel-Aviv and Vienna are already on the agenda, and one day I'd like to add New York, Toronto and India. Wouldn't it just be great to make art accessible to everyone in the world?
Pictured: Bringing art to the world: Stephanie Manasseh