The Seattle Art Fair in 2019.
The Seattle Art Fair in 2019. Courtesy of Seattle Art Fair

Seattle Art Fair, a major exhibition that has gathered galleries from all over the world into the CenturyLink event space each summer since 2015, announced this morning that they are canceling the 2020 event.

"As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made the necessary decision to cancel the 2020 Seattle Art Fair, which was scheduled to take place July 23-26," organizers say. "Our decision was taken in close consultation with the many involved in putting on the Seattle Art Fair—gallerists, collectors, and partners to name a few."

Mike McCready (guitarist of Pearl Jam), the artist Kate Neckel, and Josh Klinghoffer (former guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers) collaborating on art and music live at the 2019 fair.
Mike McCready (guitarist of Pearl Jam), the artist Kate Neckel, and Josh Klinghoffer (former guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers) collaborating on art and music live at the 2019 fair. Courtesy of Seattle Art Fair

James Harris Galley has had a booth at every Seattle Art Fair these last five years.

Harris said in a phone interview with The Stranger, when we called to get his reaction to the cancellation: "I was relieved. It's always sad when a cultural event is canceled, or even sporting events—it's sad for the city itself. But I just don't think that by July people would be coming to the fair, and I don't know how you would engage in social distancing."

He added that art fairs all over the world have been postponed till the fall, depending on what's going on with the virus by then, but Harris says that what Seattle Art Fair did—canceling outright—was a better call.

"I think it was a savvy move on their part to delay it a year," he said.

In the past, the art fair has happened the first weekend of August, the same weekend as Seafair. Organizers had moved it up to late July this year, so it wasn't interfering with First Thursday or Seafair. "But I don't think it could have moved forward even in August," Harris said, because it's so up-in-the-air if and when things will return to normal.

The artist Anthony White at last years art fair.
The artist Anthony White at last year's art fair. Courtesy of Seattle Art Fair

Seattle Art Fair was founded by Paul Allen in 2015. The Monday morning after that first fair, Stranger critic Jen Graves wrote:

When the clock struck 6 p.m. on Sunday night and the loudspeaker announced, "Seattle Art Fair is now closed," the few hundred stragglers still standing inside CenturyLink Field Event Center clapped and cheered...

"Whoo!" called Greg Kucera, the elder statesman of Seattle gallerists, surrounded by sculptures and paintings as far as the eye could see. He was also standing at the culmination of three decades of showing and selling art in Seattle. "It's been years since I heard applause at the end of an art fair."

"I think the fair has been great over the last five years," James Harris reflected today. "I've participated every year, and every year has been successful for the gallery. I love being with my colleagues, and my colleagues that come in from out of state. By canceling, those galleries that make the effort to come to Seattle—it really is kind of a relief for them, because they would be coming to Seattle with the possibility of no sales at all." And those booth rentals are not free.

"And with coming from out of state or even out of the country—because there's a number of international galleries, for instance from Japan—it reduces risk for them. So I think fair organizers made a very smart move by canceling this year. We want it to be national and international, we don't want it to be just regional, because we want to bring people from all over the world to show off in our city. And I just don't think the hospitality industry would be prepared. We're still navigating what it's like to be in this virus world."

As for the organizers, Seattle Art Fair director Kira Burge said in a statement today: "Seattle’s cultural community is coming together with incredible strength and ingenuity right now. We look forward to the time when we can once again gather to celebrate the exciting artistic talent in the Pacific Northwest.”