Several years ago Leanne Stella, a veteran Fair organizer, entrepreneur and curator, moved to Harlem. She was struck by the cultural richness of her new neighborhood, but noticed that much of the art community existed behind closed doors — be it in the artists’ studios or in brownstone galleries.
In 2011, she launched Art in FLUX, a pop up series of exhibitions and special events in under-utilized storefronts, to promote the artists and artists in Harlem. By activating spaces throughout the community to present works in all formats from painting and performance to photography and installation, Stella began steadily growing an active and engaged group of art enthusiasts and collectors to support the artists being presented.
As a result of the program’s popularity, in 2015 she launched FLUX Art Fair, Harlem’s first contemporary art fair, timed to coincide with FRIEZE. Unlike the traditional Fair model, Stella’s goal is to create a collaborative and diverse fair model that engages community members, art enthusiasts, and international collectors while enabling visitors to experience the energy and history of the neighborhood.
This year FLUX Art Fair is presenting FLUX Public Art Projects in collaboration with Harlem Community Development Corporation, Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, NYC Parks, and the New York City Department of Transportation Art Program. Stella and her team of advisors and curators are showcasing over 40 installations and performances throughout Harlem’s parks and boulevards — and an impressive 50 percent of the exhibiting artists are women.
ArtBeat had a chance to sit down with Leanne to discuss FLUX and the impetus behind it.
At New York Natives, we say Art is Everywhere in NY – how does Flux Art Fair reflect that?
FLUX was launched in 2012 as an initiative to present art in public spaces and create opportunity for artists uptown. Art should be accessible to all communities. By activating vacant retail spaces with pop up exhibitions we have steadily increased awareness about both the strength and abundance of art and artists in Harlem. NYC Parks, the DOT and the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance have been instrumental in enabling us to present over 40 installations and performances throughout Harlem’s parks and boulevards.
You call this a Fair – but it is also a public art initiative – how and why did you determine to put the art in the public realm and is it — as the word “Fair” would suggest — for sale?
FLUX’s primary purpose is to provide opportunities for artists and curators to present their vision. As we manage multiple platforms that foster the careers of many artists, we have developed a loyal and growing collector base over the years. We help facilitate sales work wherever possible as these sales enable artists to invest back into their creative process.
The artists began installing last week — what has been the reaction of those that frequent the parks, that are not art connoisseurs and collectors?
The response has been fantastic – and fascinating! The park setting encourages exploration and engagement and people of all ages and from all walks of life stop to ask questions and share their thoughts about the work they see. The other day one man kept walking through Jon Gomez’s “Passage Monolith” — he said he felt as if it were a gateway to history. Another group gathered at one of the entrances to the park and looked at the oversized aluminum heads by Bob Clyatt and a boy ran up and hugged one of them!
What are the highlights at Flux this year?
There are so many superb works — each and every one is a highlight! Visitors exploring FLUX should keep an eye out — there are many large-scale installations, but there are also subtle interventions hidden in rocks, activating chain link fences, and on a pillar on the basketball court. The artists have activated sites throughout Marcus Garvey Park, Harlem Art Park, Harlem Grown Farm and Lenox Avenue.
Where is public art today and how does that effect your lens when you are in the city?
Art historically has been, and continues to be, more abundant in higher income neighborhoods.
How does Flux standout from the rest of the fairs in NY? We not constricted by the art fair norms. Because we are faced with the challenge of not having a permanent large white box to present a typical fair, our advisory board and curatorial team work together to create a new artistic vision each year. This unique approach will enable us to keep things fresh for many years to come.
What’s driving the large numbers this year? what do you think is the NY psyche on art today?
I think it has become a bit art-fair-centric and perhaps elitist and it is important for entities like FLUX to shake things up a little and bring different groups of people together. Art should be a unifier as well as a thought-provoker but if the only people coming together around art are at the same economic and education level, then art is not doing it’s job of opening minds and activating discussions.
You mentioned that you are hosting events throughout the month — what types of events are you hosting and are they geared towards the general public or art world insiders?
We present high-calibre programming that is is accessible to art enthusiasts, art world “insiders” and the general public alike. From free artist performances on Saturdays between 1 and 3pm- some of which encourage visitor participation – to artists talks, to brunch discussions with expert panelists, to a Sip + Sketch event, there is something that appeals to everyone.
Is this a special moment in time?
This is a special moment in time for Harlem and for all of us as participants, residents and visitors to embrace, respect and protect the history of the neighborhood while also propelling it forward. Art and artists are an integral part of the history and fabric of this community and our mission is to create new opportunities for artists to present their work and to propel their creative endeavors.
Last year FLUX was in the historic Corn Exchange building, this year it’s a public art initiative. What are your plans for FLUX in 2017 and beyond?
FLUX will always be May (coinciding with FRIEZE Art Week) and always be Harlem (for NY). Public art will, more than likely, continue to be a strong component of the Fair moving forward. However, as our name implies, the nature of the Fair is to continually change and adapt to space, the community and artistic trends. I envision we will expand to other cities that have a similar identity to Harlem. In the more immediate future, we plan to incorporate a strong new media component.
Don’t miss FLUX Art Fair, happening now!