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VISUAL ART

Outdoor pop-ups boost Boston’s newest art fair. ‘We all have fatigue looking online these days.’

AREA CODE Art Fair founder David Guerra stood with independent curator Jen Mergel at a pop-up storefront.
AREA CODE Art Fair founder David Guerra stood with independent curator Jen Mergel at a pop-up storefront.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

When COVID-19 crashed the art economy, David Guerra, the Cuban-born owner of the SoWa gallery A R E A, got art up online to keep local artists visible. After an April water main break flooded SoWa, he began strategizing about how to help fellow gallerists.

His solution: AREA CODE Art Fair, the first contemporary art fair exclusively for artists with ties to New England. There will, of course, be no convention halls packed with art and swarming with visitors. The fair runs throughout August at www.areacodeartfair.com and around Greater Boston.

“COVID has made us bring attention to what’s local,” Guerra said. “It’s an initiative born of finding solutions to support creatives.”

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The whole thing came together quickly. First, Guerra tapped a team of volunteers, including several accomplished local curators.

“David talked with a number of colleagues after the flood,” said independent curator Jen Mergel. “It snowballed. He and I first talked at the start of June. It’s been a sprint.”

Art fairs are usually elite affairs that charge fees for galleries to participate and for collectors to see the art. AREA CODE is completely free.

“We’re not a fair that comes with a budget,” Guerra said.

"Monument Field: Grey Blue Trip" by Jessica Tam, one of the artists featured at AREA CODE Art Fair.
"Monument Field: Grey Blue Trip" by Jessica Tam, one of the artists featured at AREA CODE Art Fair.Courtesy AREA CODE Art Fair

Nearly 90 artists have been selected to be featured online by independent curator Octavio Zaya. There will also be virtual studio visits, workshops, and panel discussions.

But if you’d rather see art in person, you can.

“We all have fatigue looking online these days,” Guerra said. “We want to make it viable to be with the art.”

Mergel has juried storefront displays spotlighting graduate-level artists whose careers have been stalled by COVID, at venues found by Space Us, an agency that puts art in underutilized spaces — like Jessica Lau’s multimedia ceramic sculptures on view at Gather Here, a sewing studio in Cambridge with a fabric shop still closed due to COVID. A ticketed drive-in screening of digital and video art juried by Emerson College’s Leonie Bradbury is set for Aug. 14 at Salem State University in partnership with the public art agency LuminArtz.

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A detail from Jessica Lau's "Demeter’s Alter," currently installed in a Cambridge storefront.
A detail from Jessica Lau's "Demeter’s Alter," currently installed in a Cambridge storefront.Courtesy AREA CODE Art Fair

Performance art about intimacy, confinement, and memory, and social justice-themed special projects including murals made in collaboration with young artists and a show of photographers highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement will pop up in real life and online. The full schedule, including maps to the storefront art and tickets for the screening, will appear at www.areacodeartfair.com on Aug. 1.

This strange summer, when we’re parched for art and community, is the perfect time for an art fair.

“Many of the curators on the team have been thinking and talking about focusing on artists with ties to New England for a long time,” Mergel said, “but especially since COVID, with its canceled opportunities, canceled projects, and decimated budgets.”

The AREA CODE team has met every Tuesday to hash out details.

“If this is not a collective effort, it’s not going to work,” Guerra said.

“It’s one thing to say a model is collaborative. It’s another to make that happen,” Mergel said. “It’s been wonderful to be part of a team of such great human beings.”

AREA CODE’s bare-bones business model puts artists first. Unlike most fairs, it includes artists who have no gallery representation. If a work sells, half the proceeds go to the artist (which is standard for a gallery sale) and 35 percent to the sponsoring commercial gallery or nonprofit. If there is no sponsor, that 35 percent supports the cost of administering the fair. The remaining 15 percent will be split equally among all the participating artists.

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"The Drowned World - Act One" by Stephanie Todhunter, one of the artists featured at AREA CODE Art Fair.
"The Drowned World - Act One" by Stephanie Todhunter, one of the artists featured at AREA CODE Art Fair.Courtesy AREA CODE Art Fair

And if you can’t afford to buy art, there’s a tip jar.

“We’re asking every artist to give us their PayPal and Venmo information, so if people are not in a position to buy art, they can send a donation,” Guerra said.

Mergel lauded Guerra’s leadership. “I’m a firm believer that if you do good to other people, good will come to you,” she said. “David has such a passion for art and for finding ways for people to encounter art. It’s really inspiring. He has been carrying the team.”

The April flood sparked this ambitious, if seat-of-the-pants, art fair. It has also closed A R E A gallery — at least temporarily. Guerra said he won’t reopen until there’s a vaccine, and he won’t return to SoWa. Meanwhile, he said, he’ll focus on other projects — like future art fairs.

“I think this will be a platform that will stay. If not every year, it will happen regularly in New England,” he said. “It’s beautiful to see the community coming together to say OK, let’s do it.”

AREA CODE ART FAIR

Aug. 1-31. More information available Aug. 1 via www.areacodeartfair.com



Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.