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Tianna Rivera, Arm's Length Away, 2020, rendering of Special Projects section installation. Courtesy of the artist and AREA CODE Art Fair.

Running from August 1-31, AREA CODE is not your average art fair. Informed by values of transparent experimentation and open access, for one thing, it is free for both exhibitors and viewers. The first contemporary art fair focused on New England, it was developed in collaboration with a team of Boston-area curators and artists as an effort to mitigate some of the economic challenges that the pandemic has posed to the region’s cultural life and arts community. Through online and decentralized in-person experiences across greater Boston, the fair features works from New England’s most innovative and inspiring art galleries, nonprofit organizations, and individual artists without gallery representation. Northeastern University is a sponsor of AREA CODE – alongside other sponsors and partners such as Cube, Emerson Contemporary at Emerson College, the Boston Art Review, and the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston (A Chapter of Americans for the Arts).  

Amy Halliday, Director of Northeastern’s Center for the Arts (CfA), has been curating and co-ordinating the initiative’s public programs and artist’s talks, which provide a range of opportunities to dive deeper into artists’ work and explore resonant contemporary issues facing New England’s contemporary arts ecosystem. In addition, Northeastern faculty and alumni – including Associate Teaching Professors of Art + Design Sophia Ainslie (represented by Gallery NAGA) and Julia Hechtman (whose recent Fulbright work in Iceland will be projected as part of the Video Art Drive-In), as well as CAMD Journalism alum Dell Marie Hamilton – are among those whose work was selected by jurors. 2018 grad Jameson Johnson – who studied Political Communication and Art History and started the Boston Art Review during her final year in CAMD – is assisting with marketing and media strategy.

AREA CODE’s main online section, juried by Octavio Zaya, will showcase 89 solo presentations by a diverse group of artists with ties to New England. Artworks will be for sale (with a progressive profit-sharing model ensuring that all artists receive funds), but there is also the option to make a donation to support an artist directly, which is another way of making supporting the arts more widely accessible.In addition to the main section, AREA CODE also features drive-in and drive-by outdoor presentations of digital/video art (juried by Leonie Bradbury); live and livestreamed performances (curated by Gabriel Sosa); pop-up shows around the city of Boston by MFA students matched with Boston storefronts (in a partnership between curator Jen Mergel and SpaceUs) in recognition of the impact of Covid-19 on the graduate exhibitions that usually launch their careers; and special projects curated by Ellen Tani and Marla McLeod that will take forms as varied as an online Zoom “happening” (Heather Kapplow and Sholeh Asgary), a mobile sculpture (Tory Fair), a curatorial take-over in virtual space (Shelter in Place Gallery), a wheatpaste poster series (Tianna Rivera), a pair of poetic walking prompts (Julie Poitras Santos), a crowdsourced needlework project (Cat Mazza), and a photographic installation by a local collective at the forefront of documenting the Black Lives Matter movement (OJ Slaughter, Harry Scales, Samuel Williams, Phillip Keith).  

Amy Halliday hopes to expand the dialogue these works invoke through talks and programs, including regular studio visits on Instagram Live that take viewers behind the scenes into artists’ practices, and curated conversations developed by guest speakers on topics such as “Utopia Now,” “Art and the Expanded Digital Space,” (Eben Haines, Rashin Fahandej, Jimena Bermejo, Leonie Bradbury) “Teaching (Art) in the Present Tense,” (Anthony Romero, Helina Metaferia, Daniela Rivera, Sarah Stefana Smith) and “New England Entanglements” (with Dell Marie Hamilton, Jami Powell, Rachel Moore), inviting us to think about our complex entanglements in New England’s past, present, and future. What are the questions and challenges at stake in and for the arts right now?

“I’m delighted for the opportunity to work with this incredible team of volunteers who came together to respond quickly and innovatively in support of the New England contemporary arts landscape,” said Halliday. “The Fair celebrates and supports the essential work that artists, galleries, and non-profits continue to do, and hopes to highlight the ways in which they contribute to the region’s cultural, social, and economic wellbeing.  As Coordinator of Public Programs, I see my role as that of a connector and facilitator…

I’m there to foreground the voices that are shaping key conversations right now, particularly in relation to the ongoing movement for racial justice, and the repercussions of Covid-19 on contemporary artists, arts organizations, and artistic practices.

In partnership with the Center for the Arts, AREA CODE Conversations is a summer speakers’ series which will take place on Zoom: conversations are free to attend but registration is required. For more details, see the CfA events page here

The art fair, which runs the entire month of August, aims to establish a vital model of experimentation and exchange to support the labor of creatives in the region. To help mitigate the impact of Covid-19, the fair model includes a progressive profit-sharing initiative whereby sales are distributed 50% to the artist, 35% to either their gallery/non-profit sponsor or (if unrepresented) back to the cost of administering the fair, and the remaining 15%  will be redistributed equally among all section artists  at the end of the fair.

Artwork (ranging from $300 – $20,000) will be for sale on the Area Code Art Fair website beginning on August 1. Recognizing that many folks cannot afford to purchase art but would still like to support artists, there are also options to donate to them directly. Programming, screenings, pop-up storefront exhibitions, and special events will take place throughout the entire month of August. See more on the website, and register for (free) public programsThe full list of participants can be found here.

The Area Code Art Fair has been featured in The Boston Globe and The Boston Art Review, among other local publications.