Fair Trade

Q&A | Jun 2017 | BY Tali Jaffe

Before the opening of MECA, co-founder and co-director Danny Báez opened up about his art fair for Puerto Rico.

Why was the time right for MECA? A deep financial crisis. Puerto Ricans gathering in the streets to protest the $72 billion debt. They say all the best projects/ideas come to fruition in times of adversity. We thought, why not? Maybe our fair can bring a spotlight to this island and its amazing people, as well as do our small part to spur economic activity here.

How long have you been cooking up this idea? For about two years. It started as a simple idea in June 2015 during arteBA in Argentina. By August 2016 it was a more solid project. And here we are in June 2017.

What were some of the greatest obstacles with mounting a fair in PR? Lack of funding mostly. Puerto Rico at this moment is going through their worst financial moment to date. Therefore, support from local and governmental institutions as well corporations has been absent. It’s pretty much been exchanges of services and collaborations that have given us some room to make this happen. Aside from the money, I would say that anything else that got in our way we have overcome in elegant fashion.

How are your and Tony Rodriguéz’s roles defined as co-directors?  We share a lot of the same responsibilities as founders and directors of MECA. But we also delegate stuff to each other. I deal more directly with the galleries and some of the collectors and he oversees other logistics of the internal programs of MECA with the support of our amazing, fantastic and hardworking all-female team. These ladies are Mariangel Gonzales, Maria Del Mar Caragol, Maria Del Mar Frederique, Hazel Colón and Carmen Martinez.

Everything that happens in MECA needs to be approved by both of us, unless one of us decide to “pass the baton” to the other or assign one of our team members to the task. I can confidently say that it’s a very solid and respectful relationship. Professionally and personally. Our personalities are a tad different but we make things work together. And I’m very grateful that we both share the helm at MECA. I think he’s the right partner to give life to this project.

Students at MECA. Courtesy of Stephanie Silva / MECA Art Fair.

Who were some of the earliest to sign on as exhibitors? Special shout-out to 47 Canal! I see you guys. Oliver and Margaret, I owe at least half of the outcome of MECA (regarding gallery presence) to those two. Then Matthew Moravec (Off Vendome). Shortly afterward, Matthew Higgs and the fantastic White Columns honored me with their presence. What a privilege, for real.

Then Gustavo (Arróniz) from Mexico City and PATRON from Chicago, followed by The Green Gallery (Milwaukee), Agustina Ferreyra (San Juan / Mexico) and Embajada. Those were on the early side of the whole thing. There were other folks that came on board early as well, but dropped at the very last minute. But it’s all good. I totally understand. Times are difficult. The art world is in distress right now and business has been tricky lately. They’re always welcome to come for the next edition.

Students at MECA. Courtesy of Stephanie Silva / MECA Art Fair.

What do you hope the impact of the fair will be on the Caribbean Market? Sincerely speaking, I really hope that MECA can bridge the gap between the Caribbean region and the rest of Latin America, including Jamaica and Haiti. I hope that people finally understand that a lot of amazing art is being produced and cultivate on these islands. That Mexico and Brazil aren’t the only ones making things happen. I love both of those countries, but el Caribe gets placed on the back back back of the back burner. And we’re not even an integral part of the dialogue when it comes to the art market and arts in general in what we call LATIN AMERICA.

One of our main goals is to bring these international galleries here for them to explore the local scene and hopefully connect with it. I’d love to open opportunities for them…who knows maybe some can find a place in the North American, European, South American market as well. There’s a lot of things going on in the Caribbean arts scene and they deserve the chance to showcase their capabilities, without being inhibited because they can’t leave their countries or because other countries don’t usually come to them.

We also hope to shift some of that attention to Central America, a region where there’s a plethora of amazing, talented and quality artists and art programs. We tend to also keep them out of the conversation. That’s the core mission of MECA.

The majority of the exhibitors are international, so is the goal more about developing the collector base in the Caribbean, specifically Puerto Rico? The Caribbean’s collector base (especially the one from Puerto Rico) is a vast, well known and respected one. In a country of nearly 3.2 million people, having 45 recognized collectors is already a milestone. Even more so in these times of economic failure. They are seasoned art connoisseurs, some of them with very close relationships with powerful art dealers all over the world. What we’re doing is bringing their beloved and galleries of choice to their backyard. Letting them know that at least once a year they can acquire their favorite artists here in San Juan. 

The relationship between Collector and Gallery already exists. We’re just making it more fun and less bureaucratic for all the parties involved. At the same time we hope to create a new wave of young collectors here and lure their peers from Dominican Republic, Cuba (there are collectors in Cuba, yes), Jamaica, Haiti and the many other beautiful islands of the Caribbean to San Juan—to start a fresh dialogue fueled by the love of the arts in general.

 

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