The American Association of Retired Persons offers its members 15 percent off at Denny’s. Members of AAA, the automotive group, get roadside assistance. Until recently, National Rifle Association members got discounts on Delta flights. Members of NADA, the New Art Dealers Alliance, get special rates on hotels, among other benefits—plus a whole lot of intangibles that matter more than ever for small, new, and mid-tier galleries operating in a challenging economic environment.
On Thursday’s opening day of NADA’s seventh New York art fair, multiple dealers cited NADA’s feeling of being a part of a “community” as a key reason why they participate, even as some dealers eschew fairs altogether or search for alternative models. Founded in 2002 as a non-profit industry group for emerging galleries, as well as curators, artists, and other art world professionals, NADA has been staging fairs in Miami since 2003 and in New York since 2012, always with an eye towards helping its dealers thrive.
“We do the fairs we do as long as they’re good for the people participating,” said Heather Hubbs, the executive director of NADA. “The reason NADA started doing a fair in Miami was because there was a demand for it. It’s because the galleries want it.”
(The fair accepts applications from NADA member galleries, who number about 110, and is open to non-members. Being a NADA member does not guarantee acceptance to the fair.)
To make it viable, she and her staff have worked towards maintaining consistent booth pricing. Hubbs pointed to the wide range of booth sizes the fair offers to allow for broader participation—even for project spaces, nonprofits, and galleries that only operate on the weekend.
“We have enough options that if someone really wants to be a part of it, they can find something they feel comfortable with,” Hubbs said.
She is also trying to help her members with other aspects of the art business. Members have, for example, asked about help with consolidated shipping for fairs or exhibitions and deals on framing. Her personal goal, although she acknowledged it’s “a really tough one to figure out,” is to one day be able to offer access to health insurance through NADA for galleries and individual members, since providing health insurance to employees can be prohibitively expensive (as well as administratively burdensome) for small businesses. And while NADA does educational programming throughout the year, the fair remains its biggest event, and a key opportunity for new galleries.
Sara Maria Salamone of the 18-month-old Mrs. gallery in Maspeth, Queens, credited NADA’s fairs with helping her young gallery get off the ground. In the short period of time since she opened the gallery with her husband, she’s participated in three NADA fairs, two in New York and one in Miami.
“Our business has grown so much just because of it,” Salamone said. “It’s opened up so many doors. That’s what I feel like NADA is able to do. As a small gallery, we’ve seen so much growth in 18 months. I can’t [attribute] it to hard work only, because we have to be supported by other people. It takes a network to build something, and we’ve been fully supported by NADA.”