The creator and director of SP-Arte, Fernanda Feitosa. Photo: Disclosure

A few days before the opening of the SP-Arte Viewing Room, the virtual version of the largest art fair in the country, the creator and director of the event, Fernanda Feitosa, shows great satisfaction with the new digital platform that debuts this August 24th and with the possibilities that open up in the digital universe. She claims not only that the virtual event is here to stay - and should occur together with the face-to-face event in future editions -, but she defends that other viewing rooms can be carried out by the brand throughout the year, with different curatorial aspects.     

Five months after the announcement of the cancellation, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, of the in-person fair that would take place in the first week of April, she says that she prefers to leave behind some recent disagreements that involved SP-Arte and a group of galleries from the parents: “It was a very complex moment for everyone, and it required a great deal of understanding and dialogue. The uncertainty of the future at that time was also an aggravating factor. It was a complicated moment and I recognize that we had communication difficulties. Discussing business issues in public is always difficult.”

About more recent complaints about the amounts charged for the participation of the houses in the online event, she completes: “The development of a digital project like the Viewing Room, with the quality and tools we include, is quite complex, takes time and requires several investments in technology. In addition, the work and team required for an online event of this size is almost the same as for an in-person event.".

The website she refers to is the platform that will house, between the 24th and 30th, the spaces of the 136 exhibitors – including art, design and publishing galleries – nationally and internationally. Each of them will set up a kind of exhibition and will feature, in addition to photos and texts, video and audio resources. A differential in relation to other fairs, according to Feitosa, is the attempt to bring the event even closer to the dynamic and direct language of the internet, without the need for visitors to register, with transparency in the prices of the works and ease of contact between buyers and galleries.

As is usual in the face-to-face event, there will also be a schedule of guided tours of exhibitions and workshops, now in a virtual way, in addition to debates and lives organized by the fair and the galleries (see here). in conversation with the arte!brasileiros, Feitosa also spoke about the difficulties experienced with the crisis, but also about the resilience of the art market. Read the full text below.

ARTE! – This is the first online edition of SP-Arte, which follows a global trend of art fairs after the Covid-19 pandemic. I would like to start by asking how you see this moment and how was this process that culminated in the launch of SP-Arte Viewing Room.

I think it was a relatively quick movement, all over the world, in which the art market was restructured. And after the cancellation of the fair, we quickly mobilized to make the online version. And I would say that this was more or less triggered, because we had already understood that going digital was a very important move that SP-Arte would have to make. In other words, even the face-to-face events – SP-Arte and SP-Foto – would have to be interconnected with the digital performance throughout the year.

ARTE! – Was the launch of the SP-Arte 365 platform in 2019 already a move in this direction?

Yes. We already have a digital marketer working with us since last year, helping with this part of intelligence, of communicating with the public. Last year, we also had a series of conversations with galleries in São Paulo and abroad about this care and attention to digital. It was already something that we had been paying a lot of attention to, pushing the galleries to embark on this mode as well, to embrace digital as a reinforcement in their activities. And when we made 365, it was already an evolution of the site itself. And from 365 to the Viewing Room it's a short hop. Let's say it's not an easy jump, as there is a whole complexity of technology and programming. But we already had a web developer on the team since 2019 precisely to streamline our own dynamic scanning process. Because it's a daily exercise. So this transition to the Viewing Room was natural. Now, 365 works as a permanent online catalog of SP-Arte's exhibiting galleries, but it still didn't have a curatorship in it, a strong communication project with the public in this sense of the fair. The Viewing Room, then, is in a way a fusion of 365 with our Editorial (part of the site dedicated to content production). Because it is also an editorial project, in which each gallery participates with an exhibition. So it was hard work, but it was a natural process.

ARTE! – And how will it work?

Each exhibitor is invited to create an exhibition, a project, on their page. Not trying to copy an in-person show, but we are proposing that galleries make use of technological tools to communicate with the public in the best possible way, within the language of the internet. So if 365 only had photos of the works and prices, now the exhibitor can also have text, audio and video associated with each work. And I would say accessibility is the keyword of the event. The ease of connection between the visitor and the exhibitor was something we took very seriously. Every visitor who wants to contact the gallery can do so via email, chat or WhatsApp, which is a very powerful tool today. And we seek to be in tune with people's usual way of communicating. And the other point is transparency. We made the proposal to all exhibitors to put on the website the price of the works, or at least the price range. Because the behavior of the internet user is this, to seek clear and direct information, to have easy communication. And I think this greatly improves the quality of contact between the potential buyer and the gallery. If the visitor already knows that the price is within his means, his contact is much more assertive, he is much more likely to succeed.

ARTE! – SP-Arte takes place after the realization of a series of other virtual fairs in Brazil and in the world. Did that time help you build a more interesting platform, develop more practical navigation and sales tools?

Clear. We always have to make use of previous experiences in our favor, to learn both from the successes and from the mistakes of those who preceded you. And that's why we saw that it was important to offer galleries this opportunity to speak to the public using text, audio and video as resources that are complementary. In addition, SP-Arte online is open to the general public, with no need for registration, pre-password, no VIP audience with early access. Because we think that the online environment is, by nature, accessible, democratic. And the easier the access, the better. This is the language of the internet.

Excerpt from the fair's publicity video, which simulates what the platform will be like. Photo: reproduction

 – Can this also bring in an audience that is not a buyer, but just wants to see art, as was the case at the in-person fair?

Exactly. Of course the goal is for people to buy art. But I think it's interesting to build your audience, which may not even be a buyer now, but a few years from now. And at SP-Arte in person, most people didn't go to buy, but to see art. Because that's also a huge exposure, no doubt.

ARTE! – Regarding the choice of works presented, many gallery owners have commented that it is a good time to sell works of lower or intermediate values, even on account of a new audience that comes with the internet. Do you think this should change the type of work that will be presented, in relation to face-to-face fairs?

I think that each gallery has its positioning and will adopt a strategy compatible with the moment. And evidently we are not living in a moment when everyone will put their most expensive works. Considering also that it is an online event, with the potential for a much greater audience reach than the physical event, I think the galleries will take their higher quality works, but with a mix of prices. Now, it is also a fact that in last year's SP-Arte, and this is an interesting figure, 57% of the works sold were below R$50. So I think maybe the behavior is not so different.

ARTE! -  Even though we still don't have the results of the event, I would like to know how you imagine this format of virtual fairs going forward. Do you think it's something that's here to stay?

I see this with a lot of positivity. You see, at the face-to-face fair we have around 35 people at SP-Arte and 15 people at SP-Foto. In other words, 50 people attend our face-to-face events throughout the year. And there are about 40 thousand visits to the site per month. Also because online is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without having to travel, while a fair takes place for a few days, a few hours a day, in a certain location. So look at the potential we have in our hands, to have a greater and more global reach. I also think that even though SP-Arte is an international event, it is impossible for a face-to-face art fair in Brazil, Mexico or Argentina to have the scope and performance of a fair that is in Europe or the USA. The number of visitors from abroad is always smaller, naturally. However, now you have the whole world able to visit SP-Arte online without having to leave your home.

ARTE! – Many gallery owners speak of the exhaustion of a model that used to exist in which it is necessary to travel incessantly throughout the year to fairs around the world. It's expensive, tiring, something that was becoming unfeasible.

Yes, it's also interesting to see that when I started SP-Arte, April was a quiet month, there was nothing, it didn't compete with other fairs. In recent years, we have, at about the same time, fairs in New York, in Hong Kong, not to mention dozens of others that appeared throughout the year. I mean, it's not possible for gallery owners or collectors to travel that much. And logistics became the big bottleneck. The cost of the stand, plus the transport of works, people, etc. So I think this would asphyxiate the exhibitors at some point, there was no way.

ARTE! – Going back to talk a little about the whole process until arriving at the SP-Arte Viewing Room, in recent months there have been two controversies, or disagreements, that involved the fair. I would like to ask what your perception of them is. Firstly, in relation to the return or not of the total amount that had already been paid by the galleries to the fair, when it was cancelled…

For all of us, the decree, or recognition, that we were facing a pandemic, and that this put the whole world at risk, that is a big scare. And, in our cultural milieu, it was undoubtedly a scare for everyone who undertakes, who has a business. We all had a schedule for a job to be done, we had a commitment for a job to be delivered, eventually with sales made and payments received. Dealing with the complexity that is simply giving a hobbyhorse, pulling the handbrake and stopping everything is not simple. So how do you do with what you had to pay, since you don't get what you expected to get? And the whole world was in this situation, of course in different contexts. But Fhi, it was a very complex moment for everyone, and it required a great deal of understanding and dialogue. The uncertainty of the future at that time was also an aggravating factor. It was a complicated moment and I recognize that we had communication difficulties. Discussing business matters in public is always difficult. Anyway, the fact is that we were the only event of this type that was canceled on the eve of the event. We were caught at the worst possible moment, because I rent a space, I hire the production, the assembler and so on. There is a network of suppliers with whom we work and all of this had already been paid, either in full or in part. Luckily, with the Bienal building we were able, due to the contract, to leave the amount that was already paid as a credit for next year.

ARTE! – But in the end the money ended up being returned in full to the galleries.

Yes. Because anyway, they are my clients and partners for many years and I think it was important to signal that our commitment is such that it puts SP-Arte's own financial health at risk. And life goes on, we are together again in another important project for everyone and we will lift us up

ARTE! – The other issue that came up, more recently, was a complaint regarding the costs of participating in the fair and the percentage charged in the sales of works. Gallerists said that this had not been done by the other virtual fairs so far…

The development of a digital project like the Viewing Room, with the quality and tools we include, is quite complex, takes time and requires several investments in technology and development, such as “duplicating” the site on another server, investing in increasing of capacity and speed to sustain visitation peaks, create data intelligence and navigability tools, design, just to name a few. This is expensive. In this new format, the commercial pricing model also ends up having to be different from the traditional model of selling space charged by m2. In addition, the work and team required for an online event of this size is almost the same as for an in-person event.. I don't know the commercial strategy of other fairs abroad and that's why I wouldn't like to give an opinion, but this is the one we adopted at SP-Arte.

ARTE! – In the end, despite the disagreements, there are 136 exhibitors participating in the fair. Is it a good number?

Yes, we have 136 exhibitors participating, so I believe that this initial awkwardness has been overcome. Because I think they also realize that there is a very big difference between digital platforms where you pay 150 dollars and buy just a template page, with a layout, where you put your works with a text - which is something closer to an advertisement page – and this is very different from what SP-Arte is doing when it offers the Viewing Room. We are offering a digital event that brings a brand, a sophisticated platform, a committed editorial, a qualified mailing, a network of 160k+ followers, a press force, media fair announcements and so on. This is all at the service of the event, of the galleries.

ARTE! – Talking a little about the political and economic context, we are experiencing a very troubled moment, with many businesses closing, many people unemployed, with the economy very fragile. Surprisingly, the art market, after an initial hit with the pandemic, seems to have recovered. The gallery owners say they are still selling, some fairs have had good results. What do you think this good result is due to?

This is a crisis of unprecedented gravity and seriousness. So you can't think that any area of ​​the market – even luxury or investment – ​​will be immune to a crisis like this. But the art market, in my opinion, has a specific characteristic, because it is a store of value. So in a crisis situation, people who have resources end up looking to invest them in assets in which they see some stability, a possibility of preserving value. And art falls into that category. So buying a work by a good modern or contemporary artist can mean being relatively protected from these crises. A Volpi will always be a Volpi, for example. It will always be an asset you can turn to. And in general the art market is very resilient. Historically, it is usually the last to be affected and, at the same time, one of the first to recover. But not immune, of course. And, in addition, I think the galleries were very active, they sought to communicate with more people, partnerships emerged between the galleries, such as I also saw some types of inviting promotions, for example, so I think the houses created these dynamics that encouraged sales. On our SP-Arte online page, for example, the space was 70% editorial and 30% commercial. After the pandemic, we reversed that, also as a way to create more business opportunities. Likewise, we intensified the sending of newsletters, which also became a little more commercial. And in them we had a 126% increase in clicks on “contact galleries”.

ARTE! – Finally, did you say that the 2021 fair already has a confirmed date, in the month of April?

Yes, I am optimistic that next year we will be able to hold the fair in April, operating within safety standards, probably with public control. But it will exist concurrently with SP-Arte's Viewing Room. That is, with an exhibition on the walls, at the Bienal, and an exhibition also made online for an audience from all over the world, for those who will not visit the pavilion. And taking it a step further, I think it opens up for us the possibility of doing so many viewing rooms as much as we deem necessary, on other dates as well, with new curatorial cuts, for example. I think there are a lot of open possibilities. As for the lectures too, maybe we can reach many more people with the virtual one.     

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