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In what is proving a controversial move, the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) has sold a majority stake in its annual fair to external investors, who will relaunch it as The Open Art Fair (TOAF).

Here, BADA chief executive Marco Forgione explains the reasoning behind the sale, agreed by the BADA council, and how it will help fulfil the association’s digital ambition.

ATG: Why have you sold BADA’s fair?

Marco Forgione: Put simply, it’s to protect the fair, make it sustainable for the future and attract a broader range of exhibitors and audience. The fair needs to develop and change to ensure its future growth and success.

It was time to bring in a broader range of expertise and knowledge, at the same time as protecting our members and exhibitors by retaining the vetting and giving discounts.

Is the fair profitable?

We’ve made slight surpluses in recent years but only by paring costs to the limit. There was no further room for cuts which would not have affected the presentation and quality of the fair, a scenario I was not prepared to contemplate.

Was the money involved an incentive?

We didn’t do it for the money. We were looking to make changes to the fair anyway. By happenstance – we didn’t go looking for an outside partner – we came across Thomas [Woodham-Smith] and Harry [van der Hoorn, owner of Dutch stand builder Stabilo].

And now, the brilliant by-product is we have the financial resources to further enhance our online offering, which is open to all BADA members and is attracting a global audience.

How will you reconcile BADA being not-for-profit with the new commercial ownership of the fair?

People sometimes misunderstand what not-for-profit means. It doesn’t mean you don’t make a surplus nor operate commercially. It means you work in the best interests of members and partners, and to do so you need to make a surplus. This deal is a perfect example of those principles.

We’ve worked tirelessly to protect members’ interests and secured a range of benefits and protections for them including a discount on stand rates.

Wasn’t selling such a large stake in the fair a bit of a drastic solution?

Sometimes taking a Fabian approach of incremental changes can work but in this commercial environment with the global art and antiques market being what it is, we had to grasp the nettle and take firm, definite action.

To what extent is BADA involved in The Open Art Fair?

BADA does the vetting and we will be represented on the frontage. BADA’s fair team – staff and vetting volunteers – will be involved in the planning and delivery of TOAF. The key support teams, that is all our contractors, will continue to work on the 2020 fair.

It was essential that we retained a 20% stake so that we can be active shareholders in the new fair and we retain a board member – Kaye Michie is still the fair’s chair appointed by council and BADA has a seat on the board of the new company running TOAF.

Will the fair retain an element of BADA branding?

We haven’t finalised the wording yet but the identity of BADA and its management of the vetting will be represented in the new branding.

What’s in it for buyers?

Fair buyers will have a broader community of dealers participating and a wider range of objects to buy. They have the safety and security that vetting is done by BADA to our standards and that we will be attracting more international exhibitors and audience.

A strength of the BADA fair has been its diversity of objects and the new fair will continue to represent works from antiquity through to the present.

What is the wider context of this move?

Fairs are a vital channel but the costs of participation need to be reduced and for that you need scale and to change the model. No other business, particularly high-end retail, is the same today as it was 15 years ago. Change was, and is, essential and this move secures the future of the fair and will allow innovation to support exhibitors, buyers and collectors.

What’s your core vision for bada.org?

Across retail, not just in art and antiques, it’s clear that growth is online and digital. Bada.org is unique in being free for BADA members to use so they can upload and manage as many objects as they wish and benefit from our active promotion. We will create a platform which is a clear alternative to 1stdibs and the other sites. Right now, we have over 10k unique visitors a month and rising.

It isn’t fully transactional, though.

Not yet, but it will be. We are also looking to extend our physical curated events online, such as the BADA Collection which we launched in summer this year.

How did that event work out?

More than 2000 buyers and collectors visited over the two-week period. However, once it’s online, the opportunities are global. It is important we learn from the revolution taking place in retail, particularly in luxury retail, and from excellent initiatives like Christie’s Lates.