Discovery Series: an interview with (e)merge co-founders

Discovery Series: an interview with (e)merge co-founders

(September 13, 2011) Here at COMPANY, we are constantly on the look out for emerging artists. MFA exhibits, local art shows, open studios, and art fairs are our bread and butter. One new event on our radar is the (e)merge Art Fair with its innovative design that includes both international galleries and a curated selection of unrepresented artists. 

We were excited to speak with Helen Allen, Leigh Conner, and Jamie Smith, Co-Founders of (e)merge. (e)merge will take place at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in D.C. from September 22 to 25.  Get your ticket.

What inspired you to create the (e)merge art fair?

Helen Allen: DC’s art community has been growing larger and more vibrant over the past decade. Last year, Jamie, Leigh and I began talking about collaborating on a project that helped draw attention to all that the city now has to offer in terms of contemporary culture.  Over the next several months, we worked out a plan to introduce innovative exhibitions and educational programming within the familiar setting of a hotel art fair.

What is ‘Academy’ and what does this show have to do with (e)merge?

Jamie Smith: The (e)merge art fair grew organically out of the DC art scene and Academy is part of that story. Since 2001, Leigh and I have presented an annual MFA/BFA exhibition called “Academy” at our gallery, Conner Contemporary Art. We met Helen in 2005, when she founded the Pulse art fair. The three of us discovered that we share an interest in new ways to encourage emerging art. A few years ago, Helen initiated the Pulse Presents prize, which awards exhibition space to Academy artists each year at Pulse Miami. Last year, for the 10th Academy show, Conner Contemporary Art launched a panel discussion series on emerging art called “(e)merge.” The panels immediately generated excitement in DC. When Leigh and I talked to Helen about this dynamic, and how it corresponds to what’s going on with emerging art internationally, the idea came together for the (e)merge art fair.

In the white noise of all the fairs, how do you plan to distinguish yourselves?

Leigh Conner: (e)merge is the only art fair to provide free exhibition space to vetted projects by unrepresented artists. Other fairs either do not allow artists to exhibit without a gallery representing them, or charge artists exhibition fees. Unlike pop-up artist exhibitions, our artist projects were reviewed and selected by a team of experts including artist Nico Vascellari, collector Mera Rubell and curators Kristen Hileman and Matthew Higgs. The artists will exhibit along with galleries and nonprofits at the fair, in a relaxed hotel setting. Our goal is to make a place in DC for experimentation and discovery, where new connections can form among professionals engaged with emerging art here and around the world. 

How did you go about finding and selecting the unrepresented artists?

Leigh Conner: First we established the basic criteria that any artist who is not currently represented by a commercial gallery, and has not yet had a solo museum exhibition, was qualified to apply. Then we sent out a call to artists and posted it on our website. Hundreds of artists submitted proposals, which were then carefully vetted by our committee.

What is the outlook on the DC art market?

Helen Allen: The outlook is very favorable for a whole new generation of art supporters in the DC region to have a real impact in the art market. The creative energy that has recently mobilized DC’s art community is also evident in the vitality of the city’s business community. Washington’s strong job and real estate markets attract educated young urban professionals with the income and appetite to enjoy cultural experiences.  

Also check out their project "Mapping the World of Emerging Art," an initiative conceived by Jamie Smith, that invites anyone, anywhere in the world, who works with or supports emerging art – artists, gallerists, curators, arts professionals, and collectors – to “map” themselves on an interactive website. Participants will help create a picture of the world community of emerging art by uploading photographs of art to display on the map, along with their names and locations. (e)merge wants to learn who you are and see what you are doing.


preview: Thursday, September 22: 7pm - 11pm
Friday, September 23: 12pm – 7pm
Saturday, September 24: 12pm – 7pm
Sunday, September 25: 12pm – 5pm

Capitol Skyline Hotel
10 “I” Street, SW
Washington D.C., DC 20024
(Cross Street is S Capitol Street SE)

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