Emily-Jean Alexander & Nicole Garton – Fair Directors, The Other Art Fair


Emily-Jean Alexander & Nicole Garton - Fair Directors, The Other Art Fair

Emily-Jean Alexander is an experienced & certified Project Management Professional (PMP) working in the Canadian and International arts & cultural sectors both professionally and through volunteer service for over 10 years. With extensive experience in producing art events, Emily-Jean helped with the direction, management, and production of 2 editions of The Other Art Fair Chicago, 4 editions of The Other Art Fair Brooklyn, 8 editions of Art Toronto and 6 editions of Artist Project. Through contract positions in the cultural sector she has worked with municipal cultural services as well as also with local non-profit art organizations managing strategic projects.

Nicole Garton is Fair Director at The Other Art Fair, where she oversees the Los Angeles and Dallas editions. She previously led marketing at Saatchi Art, where she was instrumental in the start-up’s growth into the world’s leading online gallery. Following Saatchi Art’s acquisition of The Other Art Fair, she played a key role in the Fair’s US launch. Prior to joining Saatchi Art, Nicole worked in private and non-profit exhibition spaces, including the Santa Monica Museum of Art (now ICA-LA) and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), as well as in event production, PR, and publishing. She has 15 years of experience working with emerging artists.

AF: Hi Emily-Jean and Nicole! We are so excited to chat with the two of you; we are big fans of The Other Art Fair at Art Frankly! 🙂  To start this interview off, we would love to know more about your upbringings. Where are you both from and what are the arts communities like there? 

EJA: The feeling is mutual! I am from Toronto, but have lived on both the East and West Coasts of Canada. The Canadian art world, while very patriotic, is also very culturally diverse and influenced by our open immigration as well as our Indigenous history. Internationally we struggle with breaking out of our landscape identity (read: Group of Seven), but you would be surprised at the artists breaking boundaries both within and outside of the country. 

NG: Thank you, very happy to chat! I grew up in Los Angeles, where as a child I often accompanied my mother, an interior designer, to various design centers, craftsmen’s workshops, and private residences where I experienced first-hand the transformative power of art. Los Angeles is filled with creative people—many of them transplants from out of state or refugees from overseas. It’s also home to many successful people who cultivate incredible collections that are often inaccessible to the public, except via donations to museums. In addition to Hollywood and all the attendant industries—special effects, makeup, costuming, sound, props, set design, etc.—Southern California is also home to so many other creative industries: architecture, automotive design, music production, toy manufacturing, gaming, sports apparel, aerospace engineering, landscape design, food & beverage, publishing…the list goes on. For many generations, it was a city shaped by outcasts and weirdos, where the commercial aspects of art-making were secondary to experimentation. Today, the city has matured in its appreciation of its homegrown arts and crafts, and now so many of the artists graduating from local art schools are able to remain in L.A. to pursue their careers in earnest. Many of L.A.’s most established arts organizations and institutions were founded by artists themselves, and so the L.A. arts community has a very collaborative spirit, perhaps less concerned with external validation. 

AF: How did your upbringing shape what you do in the arts today? 

EJA: I was exposed to the arts at a very young age with music, dance and trips to museums and cultural centers. I think this informed my interests and selection of courses and programs throughout schooling.  I remember finding the Masters in Art Business Degree from Sotheby’s and finally realizing that my interest could translate into a vocation with a lot of different pathways open to me – so I jumped in and haven’t looked back! 

NG: In so many ways! My mother volunteered to teach art at my elementary school once a week, and it’s thanks to her enthusiasm that I became familiar with the work of many artists from a very young age. I was surrounded by talk of color, texture, pattern, and materials, and developed my own enthusiasm and personal tastes through exposure to museums, design showcases, and my mom’s projects. I was also fortunate to visit the homes of major art collectors, where I saw how personal passions (coupled with the means of collecting…) could translate into world-class collections that could be lived with and enjoyed. By the time I got to high school, I was an insatiable sponge for all things art history, and this fascination continued into my undergraduate studies and beyond. During summers, my dad often invited me to accompany him on work trips and so I became versed in the world of trade shows and event marketing—experiences that continue to serve me to this day.

AF: What was your first ever job? What did you learn from this experience?   

EJA: My first “jobs” were really volunteer or intern positions where I was providing tours of fairs, museums or cultural sites. I learned how to take a lot of historical and art forward information and distill it into fun, interactive and personal experiences for the audiences. I am only just realizing now how much crossover there is in between those experiences and building art fair programming. 

NG: My first job was eye-opening and a total blast. I was an intern in the promotions department at Universal Music Group one summer during high school. My job was to call local radio stations to get the playcounts for artists the label represented. Mainly, it taught me very quickly to get comfortable with cold calling, but even more than that, I observed how a woman executive maneuvered in a male-dominated, often brutal industry. 

AF: Together, you run The Other Art Fair’s United States fairs: Emily-Jean from the East Coast, and Nicole from the West Coast.  Tell us more about your respective positions, and what it’s like working together while being physically far apart! 

EJA: I lead the East Coast fair team in producing one fair annually in Chicago and two annually in Brooklyn. Nicole has been working for The Other Art Fair and Saatchi Art for longer than I have, so has been an invaluable resource for me during my first two years leading the fairs here. We connect on video a few times through the week, and almost daily over Slack! But our entire team in the US works remotely – so the biggest opportunities we have for collaboration are virtual or when we are onsite at our fairs. 

Producing an art fair regardless of the city follows a similar general timeline and milestones, so it’s easy for us to connect and know where each other are at with preparations for our next fair. I’d say for our shared position, we do talk about trends we see forming at fairs or within our respective arts communities, artists we share between fair editions and what support they may need, how we can create more cross-collaboration between our fairs and teams and some big idea generation. 

NG: Emily-Jean pretty much covered it! We often encounter similar situations as we’re preparing for a fair, so sharing notes is massively helpful. Emily-Jean has a wealth of experience and it’s wonderful to get to serve as sounding boards for each other for various situations that may arise. As with all event production, it’s about problem-solving, down to the last minute, and I count myself very lucky to have such a wonderful colleague in her!

AF: You’ve had the great opportunity of becoming introduced to so many incredible contemporary artists. Who is one artist you met through the fair that you’re loving?  

EJA: That’s almost a cruel question since we work with so many artists! Instead of picking one, I will say that I get a lot of satisfaction out of working with our New Futures artists for each fair edition. The New Futures program awards three young emerging artists with a complimentary booth so they can jump start their careers. It’s fun to mentor these artists through this experience and I’ve had a few “dance mom” moments onsite when I see them get big wins!

NG: Honestly, same. I am personally rooting for each and every one of our artists, and love learning more about the ideas behind their practices. If pressed, I would mention 2 artists who are currently on view in museum shows—this to me is a true testament of the power of the fair to help an artist gather momentum behind their careers. The first is Jackie Amézquita, a Los Angeles-based artist whom we invited to perform at our Spring 2018 show, and who showed as an exhibitor with us later that fall. She is one of the artists who was selected for the 2023 edition of the Hammer’s Made in L.A. biennial. We’re so proud of her! Jammie Holmes, who is a Dallas-based artist who showed with us at our first-ever Dallas fair in 2019 and was part of a talk we hosted at Park House, is now the subject of a solo show at the Modern Museum of Fort Worth. The show was curated by Maria Elena Ortiz, who was on our selection committee this past spring. We are over the moon for Jammie!

AF: What does your daily routine look like, and what’s something you hope you can do more of in the coming months? 

EJA: As mentioned, our team works fully remote and for me that usually means lots of meetings and connection in the mornings with a cup or two of coffee! Ideally since we will be on our break between Fall and Spring fairs coming up there will be more time for research and idea generating, getting out to local events and a trip to Chicago to start planning for 2024!

NG: I’m the kind of person who loves routine *and* being spontaneous, so I am recently enjoying using the app Tiimo. I like to include some sunshine and exercise into my day, and limit my caffeine intake. Reading actual books before bed helps to quiet my brain and allows me to tear myself away from my various screens. I aim to visit a studio or exhibition every week, so I’m looking forward to picking this back up in the off-season. Next week I’m excited to check out the Lobster Club event!

AF: Do you consider yourselves to be art collectors? What is one thing you wish more people knew about the world of art fairs? 

EJA: I certainly consider myself a collector, and I try to acquire at least one new piece from each fair I direct. Art Fairs are not just extensions of white cube or museum spaces, they’ve always meant to be an entrypoint into the artworld by means of a “day out experience”. I always encourage people to play into the idea of what experiencing artwork means to them in an art fair setting – it could be buying artwork,  making up a game to play as you walk through the fair, asking silly questions or Interacting with artists, performance and displays. 

NG: I’m reminded of this quote about art by the curator Walter Hopps: “If I’ve looked at it, I’m thinking about it.” I do collect art, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there is so much more art that I love than I could ever hope to house and/or afford. So while there is joy in collecting, I also enjoy art for what it is, the experience of learning about it, and forging connections with artists. One thing I wish more people knew about the world of art fairs is that acquiring a taste for art is a lot like cultivating an appreciation for wine or craft beers or classical music—the more you expose yourself to it, the more you’ll learn about what you like and feel confident in trusting your taste. Let your art-buying decisions be guided by what moves and inspires you. Ultimately, no matter whether you’re buying for investment, for decoration, or for your own pleasure, you should always buy art you love.

AF: As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world? 

EJA: Especially when working in time-limited projects such as an art fair, be prepared to jump in and lend a hand no matter the task. There is nothing too big or too small that can’t be accomplished with a positive, team-first  attitude and some muscle. 

NG: Well said, Emily-Jean! I would also add: great ideas can come from anywhere. So, keep an open mind, be curious, welcome people in, make time to get out and see art in different contexts as often as you can, and always be kind.  

AF: How do you think the art world can become more transparent? 

EJA: For me, I think that empathetic feedback is something that we should all be looking to both give and receive to others to help foster growth. It’s a lesson that I learn over and over, to ask for, listen, be patient and work through feedback. 

NG: While the shift to selling art online has certainly helped to make art prices more transparent (and therefore, more accessible), I would also say that artists can be transparent with each other about how they got their start. Credit the people who helped you on the way up, and never be too big to give back to those who are in the position you were once in.

AF:  What are you most excited for this year at The Other Art Fair or in the art world as a whole?

EJA: Well, we are just about to wrap up our last art fair for 2023 – so we are getting ready to start fresh in 2024 which comes with a lot of optimism and opportunities. I hope that we can continue to be a place where despite the macro-economic or political atmosphere we can bring people together to have personal experiences with artists and their artwork. 

NG: I’m most excited about the embrace of craft and functional art in the wider art world, as largely the impetus behind this shift is being driven by the diversification of the people participating in and shaping the art world today. I’ve been seeing innovative manipulations of materials that introduce traditional methods into contemporary practice—to breathtaking effect. 

AF: Thank you, Emily-Jean and Nicole, for participating in Frank Talks, it has been our pleasure! To finish off, we’re curious: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection? 

EJA: Colleen Heslin, Ken Nicol, Kristin Sjaarda, Jesse Evan Hamerman & Frode Bolhuis

NG: Analia Saban, Shio Kusaka, James Turrell, Ben Mendansky, Charlotte Perriand.

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