For its fifth year, Art Fair 14C has a new home. The rapidly expanding fair, which ran at the waterfront Hyatt in 2020, the Glass Gallery at Mana Contemporary in 2021, and the Jersey City Armory in 2022, moves to another picturesque setting in 2023: the CRRNJ Terminal in Liberty State Park.
If you follow the arts in Jersey City, you surely look forward to Art Fair 14C. Chances are, you get just as excited about the annual Studio Tour. But will you love them both at once?
The municipal government is betting that you will. This autumn, JCAST and Art Fair 14C will happen concurrently. They’ve been merged into a grand event that’ll be called Jersey City Art Week — a citywide arts blowout that will also include the arrival of the Conference of the International Sculpture Center. The Art Week will run from Wednesday, October 11 through Sunday, October 15, and Art Fair 14C will run the show.
No arts event of this scale has ever been held in Jersey City. That’s exciting. But some members of the arts community have wondered whether JCAST, which has ruled the fall for thirty-three years, will play second fiddle to the Art Fair. Robinson Holloway, the founder and director of 14C, insists that won’t be so. We caught up with her to ask her about Art Week, her plans for the fall, and the destiny of the Fair that she created.
Tris McCall/Jersey City Times: The press release from the City says that Art Fair 14C will serve as the centerpiece of the events of Jersey City Art Week. What does this mean for the Studio Tour? If 14C is the centerpiece, is JCAST going to be peripheral? There can only be one centerpiece, right?
Robinson Holloway: Centerpiece was probably not the right word to choose because it does imply that the other events are marginal. I’ve had members of the arts community come up to me and accuse me of killing JCAST.
But JCAST is now part of 14C. We have zero interest in killing it or marginalizing it. We want it to grow in stature and impact. We believe that the ability to do more advance planning and curation will be a benefit. As great a community event as it has been, it has evolved and changed over its 33 years. There are a lot of incredible Jersey City-based artists I know who no longer participate, or who have never participated in JCAST, and we want to help the event become something that welcomes them, just as we also want to welcome those who have been showing for years.
The core of 14C’s mission is to increase opportunities for artists, expand public access to fine art and strengthen careers in the visual arts. We’ll just be bringing that mission to JCAST as well.
TM: But for the first time in years, JCAST is going to have to share headlines with other major local events that demand attention — Art Fair 14C and the ISC Conference. How do we prevent the Studio Tour from getting overshadowed?
RH: We are about seven months away and in the early stages of planning everything. Our chief concern is that both events help each other grow and that neither event cannibalizes the other.
Frankly, the bigger danger is to 14C. We will unquestionably have fewer Jersey City participants than in the past. They will want to stay in their galleries or studios. We will have an admission fee to enter, whereas JCAST will be free. Art Fair 14C will be in one location in Liberty State Park, whereas JCAST will touch all parts of the city, including locations closer to mass transit. And Art Fair 14C will be promoting JCAST, but it’s not certain in what way the more numerous participants in JCAST will promote 14C.
TM: Lots of the artists who’ve participated in the Studio Tour also exhibit work at 14C. Will that still be true? Artists might be too preoccupied with one event to contribute much to the other. Do you anticipate fewer Jersey City locals at Art Fair 14C?
RH: It will definitely be a challenge for those who are based in Jersey City. They will have to weigh how best to invest their time and resources. We’re always available to answer questions, and we’ll have at least one open Zoom session in April to discuss 14C and JCAST.
The visual arts need to be seen. Given that from an operations standpoint we are treating 14C and JCAST as one event, we know that the work of Jersey City artists will be seen, wherever that may be. I do think more Jersey City artists will stay in their existing spaces.
We already have over 100 applications. Some are from galleries that weren’t previously on our mailing list. Applicants have been coming from locations that we haven’t seen before. So either word of mouth or social media has been working.
TM: Whose idea was Jersey City Art Week, anyway? Was it yours, or was it the City’s?
RH: The idea originated with 14C, but it developed as circumstances evolved.
We had been in discussions since late 2022 with the International Sculpture Center to have their next Conference in Jersey City during 14C week. That was the beginning of what I hoped would be an art-filled week beyond the walls of Art Fair 14C. I have gone to Miami for their Art Week and seen numerous fairs and events. In New York, big fairs attract other events during the Week to give art lovers numerous places to go and reasons for being there. But we didn’t have large ambitions to emulate that in Jersey City this soon. We hoped we’d grow into that as the years went on.
Everything changed after the pipes froze in our new venue. Because of the damage, we realized we wouldn’t be able to use a significant part of the building, and we’d have to use tenting for part of the fair. Becoming more temperature- and weather-sensitive, we began looking into a move from our dates in the second week of November to a different part of the calendar. One of several options was to move to the end of September or early October during JCAST, so I called [City Director of Cultural Affairs] Christine Goodman to get her thoughts on the events being concurrent and forming a large Art Week in Jersey City. It was her suggestion that we consider taking over the operation of JCAST.
Our venue wasn’t available during the JCAST dates, so we picked new dates in mid-October which now actually feel perfect.
TM: In my experience, decisionmakers in Jersey City often mistake scale for quality. The language in the press release from the City emphasizes bigness: “New Jersey’s largest visual arts event,” “a super-sized visual arts initiative,” “a much bigger stage,” “exponential growth.” As fans of Slow Art, you and I both know that the biggest events aren’t always the best ones. Why is scale so important to the city? Is it important to you?*
RH:I do agree that size does not necessarily correlate to quality. But Jersey City produces far more art than it can consume. We need to attract art lovers from beyond our borders, and a really effective way to do that is to create a big, unmissable event.
In art, There’s always a tension between minimalism and maximalism. When you go to a gallery and the art on display is given plenty of room to breathe, it can allow for a greater focus on and appreciation of the individual work. But that also means leaving a lot of work out of the show and unseen. We have so many fantastic artists here, and such a breadth of talent. We need to find a way for more of them to be seen, whether at Art Fair 14C or during JCAST in a gallery, group show, private studio, local café, etcetera.
And not least, the economics for us only work at a grand scale. We don’t want to charge a high premium to our exhibitors — we’ve always been a fraction of the cost of NYC art fairs — and the way to do that is to be large. Our biggest expense is the temporary walls, and a big part of that expense is the trucking and labor. Twice as many walls is not twice as expensive to set up.
TM: In my annual recap, I wrote that I thought the Studio Tour had gotten too big, too sprawling, and too diffuse, and it needed to be concentrated. Do you agree with that?
RH: I do think that the most effective way to maximize the impact and have the most art seen is to move toward more focused spaces and curation. But at the same time, I would never want to close off the grassroots and community aspects of JCAST.
If our plans come to fruition, people will have a rich variety of experiences within Art Week. There will be those who will spend hours traveling between exhibits and seeing thousands of works of art, people who will attend four or five evening parties, people who will wander around their neighborhoods visiting open studios in private homes, and those who may only notice a new abundance of artwork on the walls of their local café.
We have the opportunity to start planning the shape and events of Art Week earlier than the City was able to when JCAST was just one of many responsibilities of the Office of Cultural Affairs. The deadlines to apply will be earlier than in the past.
Anyone who decides last minute to open their studio or curate a show will be able to have it posted on website and online map. But because of the sprawl you mention, we want to have enough knowledge and time to provide helpful guides for our visitors. Do you have only an hour and a half to spend Downtown? Are you looking for ceramics? Are urban landscapes an interest? We can help direct people to the best ways to experience Art Week that align with their interests while maintaining the serendipity of the self-guided wander that has always been my favorite part of JCAST.
TM: You’ll now be at your fourth venue in four years. What does it say about 14C that it’s moved around the city so much? What does that say about Jersey City?
RH: We certainly didn’t intend to be this nomadic! I think it will feel almost too easy when we can be at the same place two years in a row — though no venue in Jersey City can truly be described as easy because we don’t have a convention center or other large, dedicated event space.
We were close to outgrowing the Hyatt after our second fair in February 2020, but we thought we could be there for one more year. Then the pandemic forced us to accelerate those plans and find a space that was more wide open.
The Glass Gallery at Mana Contemporary in 2021 was a great fit on many levels, though it lacked HVAC and plumbing, but their planned construction meant that we couldn’t return in 2022, and the takeover of the space by Parlay Studios last year meant that we can’t return in the future. Parlay loves the event and would be happy to host it, but they can’t commit to a 9-day event more than a few months in advance, and we need way more lead time than that.
TM: How did you feel about the Armory, ultimately? Was it a good home for 14C?
RH: We loved so much about being at the Armory in 2022. I can’t say enough about the staff at the venue as well as at Military & Veterans Affairs in Trenton. They were a joy. The space was huge, and having now tested it out, we know exactly how we would change the floor plan in the future. There were some logistical issues: a very small loading dock entrance that necessitated us closing the sidewalk and blocking traffic on Summit Avenue, the running track on the floor that we had to protect with a challenging vinyl covering, and the serious lack of parking in the neighborhood.
The majority of the people who attend Art Fair 14C come from outside Jersey City and Hudson County. That has been true every year. For our exhibitors, expanding the number of art buyers from NYC is a priority. So when we were given the opportunity to switch to a venue that would be more NYC and transportation-friendly, we decided to move again.
TM: Do you think 14C will ever have a permanent home in Jersey City?
RH: I do believe that Art Fair 14C will eventually stop roving. Although it’s been challenging from an operational standpoint to change venues every year, it’s been really rewarding to bring the fair to different neighborhoods.
TM: Did you bring the ISC Conference to Jersey City? Where will their event be held?
RH: The ISC Conference programming will be held in several different parts of Jersey City with at least one event at Art Fair 14C. Their team came for site visits in February. Their Conference attendees will be VIPs for Art Fair 14C, and our VIPs will have access to some of their programs.
The ISC has been a cultural partner for 14C in the past. Going forward, we are going to have a stronger partnership, even in future years when their Conference will be held in other parts of the world.
TM: You’ve assembled a steering committee for the Art Week that includes a mix of event organizers, arts politicians, real estate people and indie gallerists. Who picked the members of the steering committee?
RH: Taking on JCAST and creating an Art Week, along with moving 14C to a new venue — all with just seven months to plan — is a lot! We have ambitious ideas and a very lean operation at 14C, so I created the steering committee to offer advice and guidance, and to assist, if possible, with the execution of those ambitious plans.
Knowing from the beginning that there would be concern and skepticism about staging 14C and JCAST concurrently and creating an Art Week, I wanted to reassure the community that this was something that we were capable of pulling off magnificently. The people on the steering committee are all leaders in both the visual arts community and the wider community who have an enormous amount of expertise and can get things done. I have consulted with many of them on a regular basis over the years.
TM: What sort of authority will the committee have over the events of the Art Week? Steering connotes guidance, but whose foot is on the accelerator and the brakes?
RH: We’re always grateful when members of the steering committee can come up with genius ideas, lend a hand, and make connections for us, and we seek out their opinions because we have great respect for them. But the final decisions and the implementation of the programming will be done by the 14C staff.
* Joanna Arcieri, Art Fair 14C Director of Operations adds: It would be more surprising if the city — “the best midsize city in America,” as we have been told many many times — didn’t emphasize scale and greatness in a press release.