Retail is booming. The community is growing. Cambridge is ready for its own art fair.
So says dealer Charles Hart, who launches his new event, Eclectic Eye, next month at the town’s University Arms hotel. Running from February 23-26, it features just four exhibitors: Ramsay Prints, 19th-21st century dealer Nicholas Holloway, Contemporary gallery artEast, and Hart himself, whose business Skymeadow Gallery offers art with an East Anglian focus.
When Hart talks about the historic university city, it is with the affection of a former student and the enthusiasm of an entrepreneur.
“Cambridge is completely transformed from when I studied there 20 years ago,” he tells ATG.
“It’s gone from being a little fen town to ‘Silicon Fen’.”
The nickname was given to the area around the town as the cluster of high-tech businesses sprang up around it, starting in the 1990s, hosting businesses such as AstraZeneca. Now, Hart observes, the typical resident is ready to spend. “The retail offering there is enormous. Whatever is trendy, is there,” he adds. “Because this has all happened quite quickly, Cambridge could deal with a bigger art option and we thought there was space for an event like ours.”
The right moment
The past 18 months have not been kind to fair organisers, of course. Many events have been suspended or rescheduled, while others have gone (at least temporarily) silent. News of an original event is an encouraging sign.
Hart has never taken a stand at a fair, let alone organise one until Eclectic Eye. But he is confident that this is the right moment.
“It’s an idea I’ve had for a while.
I’m interested in Cambridge as a place and I thought it was the right time to have a run at it,” he says.
The four participating galleries have worked together before, notably last summer when they staged a short trial run of the event. Small numbers mean it has been easy to make decisions and work together without the overhead costs that a fair with outside ownership incurs.
And there’s more to set it apart from a traditional fair. Rather than exhibiting in separate booths, all the pictures are to be integrated and hung salon-style around the walls of the exhibition space, the hotel’s ballroom.
“Hanging the room as a whole gives it quite a different feel, like a gallery experience rather than a pocketed art fair. It’s a friendlier space to walk into,” says exhibitor Holloway.
“Since it’s run by dealers you can set up on the hoof. It gives you more freedom and latitude.”
Several events will take place during the event. On opening night, Frances Segelman will create a fast sculpture of psychologist Sir Simon Baron-Cohen, patron of children’s art therapy charity Blue Smile, to raise awareness of the organisation.
It is followed by a display of works (some available to purchase) by BA and MA students of Cambridge School of Art. Other nights are devoted to a private view and an event for the hotel.
Assuming that the fair generates enough interest, Hart plans to scale up in years to come. “We would like to repeat it each year and to have it grow. There’s no stopping Cambridge. It’s a huge, market,” he says.