Here’s some good news for the local arts scene: Miami-Dade County’s longest-running juried art fair won’t, in fact, let the COVID-19 crisis kill it this year. Instead, the Beaux Arts Festival
, an entirely volunteer-driven, women-run event that has warmed up winter in Coral Gables since 1952, returns in virtual fashion this weekend for its 70th edition, which starts tomorrow, January 16.
In what we might kindly refer to as the Before Times, Beaux Arts made for a staple weekend out for families and aspiring art collectors. Even as flashier events have come along (and, in some cases, gone), Beaux Arts has continued to stand out by reminding festival-goers that artists are people and artworks don't have to be a means to shift capital around; they're meant to be appreciated and enjoyed.
A panel of critics juries the show’s entries, which heavily lean to South Florida artists, but curators have long emphasized affordable works across all types of media. The fun of a day out at the Beaux Arts Festival has always come from showing up empty-handed, browsing artists' booths, meeting the creators face to face, and potentially taking home a work of art for the price of dinner out for two.
“The common thread is that if you are an art lover, you are getting access to 11 different categories of art that are at all different price points,” says Michele Reese Granger, co-president of the nonprofit organization behind the festival. “If you’re a beginning collector, you can find a print for $10, and you can find something far more expensive if you want it. I think the range of the type of work is what makes this an important festival, but also one that makes it accessible to so many people.”
But how to re-create the festival experience — walking around inside a booth, taking your time — in the age of Zoom?
First off, admission to the virtual version of the event is completely free, just as it always has been. And Reese Granger and her fellow volunteers have developed a couple of platforms to mimic the festival’s trademark interaction. First, on the festival’s website
, attendees can find a series of all-day Zoom meet-ups to tour artists’ studios, watch their processes (ceramic-throwing! heat-patina-making on jewelry!), and ask questions. (Check the schedule of these live talks and demos here
Meanwhile, the festival’s website will offer a virtual tour function, in which viewers can browse artists' booth setups as though they were physically there. For families, while adults browse, they can even set up kids on a separate screen for live arts-and-crafts lessons courtesy of the Beaux Arts summer camp’s art teachers.
After all of that, if you choose to purchase a piece of art, you can click through with the knowledge that 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to the artists, for whom the festival also waived booth fees this year. The festival itself, meanwhile, has long derived its funds from donations and sponsorships — as well as sales to visitors of its annual locally iconic program, tote bag, posters, and other merchandise.
You can still scoop buy those, which this year feature the work of first-time exhibiting artist Christina Flowers, and have them shipped to your home. Proceeds benefit the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum
, offering virtual public programming even as its doors remain closed during the pandemic.
This year's marriage of the tactile and the technological seems like a futuristic far cry from Beaux Arts' humble origins in the middle of the last century, when boosters for the then-new Lowe Museum hung works from clotheslines for a public sale.
The silver lining of going virtual, though, is that now absolutely anyone can attend — and the more than 200 artists showcasing their work can reach a wider audience than ever before.
“There’s such a tradition that makes this festival so special, so for all of us to have one common purpose to keep the tradition live in our community is what drives us to continue to doing this,” Reese Granger says, adding, “And what better way to support artists than a big festival bringing thousands of eyeballs to their work?”
Beaux Arts Festival. Saturday, January 16, and Sunday, January 17; beauxartsfestival.com. Admission is free.