After COVID, Boston Art Book Fair Comes Back to South End, Attracts Newcomers

Photo Courtesy of Boston Art Book Fair Website

By Jintao Zhai

Boston University News Service 

The Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) hosted its yearly Boston Art Book Fair at South End’s Cyclorama last week, gathering artists in Greater Boston and beyond for the fourth time since the organization debuted the fair in 2017.

For Hongjie Chen and Jialun Wang, two graphic designers and graduate students at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts (CFA), this weekend marked the fourth time they ever participated in a public art fair featuring photography, painting, mini-sculpture,niche books and graphic design. After hearing about the event at CFA and seeing Instagram advertisements, they joined some 140 independent artists, designers and photographers to enroll on the guest list of BCA, a five-decade-long pillar for artistic developments in Boston.

“This is our first time at this Boston fair,” Wang said. “It’s really a valuable opportunity. When we see an opportunity like this, we’d go. It’s a good experience,” Chen added, Wang’s collaborator at their stand. The only requirement for participation was a $140 application fee, and artists do not have to split their revenue with BCA.

Chen and Wang show their newest graphic design to visitors on Nov.6th. Photo by Jintao Zhai / BUNS

BCA’s annual book fair came to a halt in 2020, during which pandemic lockdowns forced many independent artists to seek alternative employment. After a two-year-long hiatus, the South End’s Cyclorama finally returned to normalcy, welcoming thousands of visitors over the Nov. 5-6 weekend.

Heshan de Silva-Weeramuni, BCA’s senior director of marketing and communications, said his organization’s core mission is to provide a sustainable venue for artists, especially those lacking long-term employment, or whom he called “artists who are left to fend for themselves.” Artistic expressions like visual arts, dance, theater and music all fall under BCA’s target, and the organization provides “deeply, deeply discounted” studio space for artists working in those areas, a “rarity in Boston,” de Silva-Weeramuni said.

As one prominent way to help artists is to find for them public exposure, BCA’s staff started to eye the “extraordinarily iconic” Cyclorama on Tremont Street in 2017, as a potentially fitting place to host visitors and showcase diverse artistic objects, such as painting collections, art books, posters, stickers and photographs.

“It’s really, really fantastic energy in the Cyclorama this weekend,” added de Silva-Weeramuni. “We go back to previous artists and say, ‘Are you interested in going back?’ We also call new artists through networks and artistic communities. It’s very, very broad outreach.”

The book fair opens from 12 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 6. Photo by Jintao Zhai / BUNS

The communications director noted that the art fair was free, given BCA’s core beliefs that “art is for everyone.”

“Art is what makes us human, and we’ll only be stronger if the arts in Boston thrive,” he added.

To successfully carry out this fair, BCA was dependent on volunteers, who came for hours-long shifts and helped artists organize their exhibitions and guided human traffic within the Cyclorama. Leslie Liu, a volunteer this Saturday, said she heard about the event and a potential volunteering experience from fellow school alumni. “Excited about the art world and being part of the scene,” Liu said that she felt the fair was “accommodating to volunteers’ needs” and that she would “love to check it out more.”

Thanks to volunteers’ management, the fair attracted a large number of artists from other cities. Coco Qin, from Los Angeles, Calif., said she discussed her magazine design arts with BCA about a month ago and was soon given an opportunity to present. She described her art as an artistic compilation of global food culture that features niche insights from anthropology scholars in China, Taiwan, Britain, and so on. A Chinese student of curatorial practice in the United States, Qin said her “te magazine” strikes a bilingual balance between Chinese and English.

Qin’s “te magazine” features food culture and anthropological insights, along with a unique artistic style. Photo by Jintao Zhai / BUNS

“This is my first time here,” Qin said. “I feel it’s a good place. Visitors are also nice. We don’t really care about how much we can sell. We’re here to exchange ideas with local artists from Boston.” This may well have met the expectations of BCA organizers like de Silva-Weeramuni.

“Many artists here are relatively younger, and we really welcome artists who are now finding their voices,” de Silva-Weeramuni said, listing from his memory several participants in their early 20s. BCA is trying to expand into college communities by networking with its faculty.

“We’re here to nurture and sustain the already thriving Boston artistic community. Over time as more and more artists go through our program, essentially we’ll have a national and international impact,” he said, adding that the book fair has already attracted many from elsewhere in the nation and even overseas.

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