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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

wider community.

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 were 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 ©