Already weathering severe financial turmoil brought on by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, dozens of galleries were dealt yet another blow this week: the Dallas Art Fair, which canceled its upcoming fall edition, will not reimburse participants for the booth fees they have already paid.
The annual modern and contemporary art fair traditionally takes place in the spring; this year, it was temporarily replaced with an online exhibition and postponed to October as the virus continued to spread in the US. Citing rising COVID-19 cases in Texas and global travel restrictions, the fair’s organizers decided to called off the in-person event altogether.
“We are working with each gallery individually and offering credits towards future fairs,” said fair director Kelly Cornell in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “We are an independently owned business and the fair was timed so close to the pandemic’s outbreak in the US that our vendors had already been paid and we are operating at a significant loss.”
“We are incredibly sorry we have had to make this decision and we hope we can work through this with each gallery one-on-one,” she added.
For some participants, however, the promise of a booth credit for next year’s fair — set to take place from April 15 to 18, 2021 — is insufficient compensation for the expenses they incurred. The galleries Hyperallergic spoke to said they were granted only partial discounts for the 2021 show. One of them, which preferred to remain anonymous, said it had already paid the entirety of its $10,000 booth fee by the time the fair was canceled, but the organizers have promised the gallery only a 50% credit on a booth for next year’s event.
Allegra LaViola, co-founder of Sargent’s Daughters in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has paid $5,500 in booth fees to Dallas Art Fair. In her response to an email from LaViola expressing concern over the fair’s refund policy, Cornell apologized and said the company is facing “complex financial situations.” Sargent’s Daughters was also offered a 50% credit on a booth for the following year.
In her reply to LaViola, which was shared with Hyperallergic, Cornell also cited a clause in the contract stating that if the Dallas Art Fair “for any reason cancels the fair, the fee shall be returned after deduction of exhibitor’s share of costs incurred or irrevocably committed prior to the date of cancellation.”
“I’m in a good financial place right now, but of course this can change rapidly,” LaViola told Hyperallergic. “It is certainly not helpful to lose a month of rent during a time when I had to close my business for 5 months!”
Scott Ogden of Shrine, which shares a gallery space with Sargent’s Daughters, said he received a call from the fair two days ago letting him know the event was canceled and galleries would not be refunded.
“I had only paid part of my booth, but it is still a significant sum given the world and financial realities for small galleries right now,” he told Hyperallergic. “Obviously, everyone is in a tighter financial place right now with the pandemic,” he said, adding that the amount owed to him is equal to almost a month of rent for his space.
Some art fairs forced to suspend their events over the COVID-19 crisis have extended more generous remittances to their participants. Art Basel Hong Kong, which called off its fair in February, refunded galleries 75% of booth fees, while Frieze New York agreed to reimburse the entirety of their booth costs.
According to the Dallas Art Fair’s website, 83 galleries were slated to participate in this year’s show. Ogden said he and LaViola have been asking for a full refund ever since the fair was postponed back in April, but their requests have been denied.
“I ardently hope that Dallas Art Fair will step up and do the right thing by their exhibitors, especially those of us who are small businesses with already tight margins,” LaViola said. “The exhibitors put our faith in the fair and they need to be working WITH us to find solutions to help us recover from the loss of not only money, but opportunity.”