Windsor Contemporary Art Fair 8th-9th November 2014
Royal Windsor Racecourse
WCAF Interview - The True Value of Art
Celebrating their landmark tenth anniversary this year, the Windsor
Contemporary Art Fair is elevating the experience and coming up with
something quite special to celebrate; something that may well change art fairs
in the future.
After a decade of success they are one of only a handful of truly influential art
fairs in the country.
Every year the event has gone from strength to strength, and the secret to the
fair’s success is the dedication of the co-founders and co-directors, Sarah
McAllister and Deborah James, to their passion for art.
They started out with just 25 stands; this year there will be 135, featuring over
150 curated artists, printmakers, photographers, sculptors, ceramicists, and
selected galleries; bringing together a vast amount of art from all over the
country and abroad and creating a powerful emotional experience.
These two women revolutionised the art fair by including artists alongside
galleries, and they are still here; when some have come and gone, their vision
to produce a distinctive experience is still exhilarating; part educational, on
some level edgy, and always exciting,
“We believe art isn’t just something to put in your home, it makes us notice the
world around us. We are trying to show an array of choices and styles that
make us think and feel,” says Sarah.
Deborah says, “You have a response to any art and when we see someone’s
face light up with wonder and joy we know we have got it right. “
Both women bring formidable credibility to their enterprise: Deborah has an
economic history degree and worked with the very first micro-computers. She
started out in international trade importing hazelnuts from Turkey and was
delighted to be asked to source art in the UK for a gallery in Spain.
A pioneer from the start, Deborah then opened a gallery in Windsor
specialising in photography; her uncle was head of photography at the Tate at
the time so it was natural to see its value as equal to any other art form.
However, she was one of only a handful brave enough to hang photography
alongside work by Sir Terry Frost, Sandra Blow and Anita Klein.
Studying a History of Art degree at the University of East Anglia, Sarah was
surrounded by art working in Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts there, a
groundbreaking place of visual communication in a building specially
commissioned from Norman Foster. She went on to work in Christie’s
Contemporary Art Galleries, the world's leading publishers and galleries
specialising in original limited-edition prints.
Sarah brings to the Windsor Contemporary Art Fair her ethos of wanting to
make genuine, high-quality, contemporary art accessible and affordable to the
It all began for them on the side of a rugby pitch, watching their sons play an
away match. They found their passions and combined experience a natural fit;
they had both owned galleries, and Sarah brought framing to the enterprise
which she still does, and they haven’t looked back since.
They had both noticed that many more artists needed a gallery space than
was available, and they plunged into creating a place for more artists to show.
They apply the same high standards of curation to the Art Fair as they would
to their gallery spaces: “We both still get excited about art, and we take what
our Art Fair offers very seriously. It has to be right for the artist and an
interesting, fresh mix for our visitors so that both get the best experience. We
actively look for new talent, support emerging work, and appreciate the value
of established, well-loved artists,” says Sarah.
“It is 100% our choice and our instincts have proved right over a decade, year
on year the show gets better. The fact that we’re still here proves we know
what we are doing,” says Deborah.
Their relationships with their artists is one of their underappreciated talents;
they have launched careers while attracting successes back year after year,
because they are just as caring about the artists themselves. “We are always
aware we are dealing with people, and we carefully look for the fit. We are
also trying to get the best out of people,” says Sarah.
In a world focused on the bottom line, maximizing profits, and stripping costs,
people who are truly passionate about what they do, and what they believe in,
have a special feeling and ownership of a company. There is an integrity and
sense of purpose that creates a different philosophy and culture.
“We treat people with respect, which is fundamentally necessary to benefit
from how they deal with you. We don’t take things for granted and always
consider the relationship important,” adds Deborah.
This same belief underpins all their relationships, from the artists to the
buyers, to their staff, the contractors and the venues, local schools and the art
community. It’s what makes them stand out. They are balancing all these
different areas with a value for the relationship.
"We like to think that integrity develops trust, building a solid relationship base
into the future. This is necessary to build solid, mutually beneficial
The secret to their success may be as simple as their attention to detail; they
are very hands-on, visible to the artists, staff, contractors, venues. They invest
in better quality for every area of the event, they have high expectations, and
they want what is right; all underpinned by traditional values of respect,
fairness, and integrity.
“We are always working to improve the experience for all, and we’re evolving
in the art market; we are not in competition with other fairs, we are doing what
is interesting for us and best for our artists and visitors with a long-term view.”
It may seem old-fashioned but, Sarah and Deborah believe that any
enterprise should add value to the world. They have structured and designed
their whole venture to have a positive impact. Their event is visionary and
participatory, it supports the Prince’s Trust, raising over £45,000 so far, it
includes the local schools in a meaningful way, and offers educational
workshops and inclusive experiences; while being successful for their artists,
and a truly great day out and an exciting shopping experience for their
They really are passionate about art, and they want us to love art too. Their
approach is probably in some sense bordering on philosophy and spirituality,
but they have undoubtedly created a national space for a gathering of artists
and art lovers, full of colour, energy and affirmation of what has meaning for
us all. They have created the world they want to live in.
To mark the tenth anniversary this year the show will host a programme of
talks and workshops including renowned artist and “tweeter” Moose Allain
who will be talking about his eclectic 'art' practice which has expanded from
drawing to include comedy writing, cartooning, stand up, animation,
filmmaking and the interior of a Mexican Waxing salon!
And you are invited.
When: Saturday 8th November 10am-6pm
Sunday 9th November 10am-5pm
Where: Royal Windsor Racecourse, Maidenhead Rd, Windsor SL4 5JJ
Private View and VIP opening by Adam Afriyie MP Friday 7th November
(Invitation only – see website for details)
Press enquiries contact Deborah James 01753 591892 or 07771 802603
Image: Jimena by Edy Gosselin ©