Dozens of Galleries Are Demanding Refunds From the Dallas Art Fair After It Canceled This Year’s Event Without Returning Booth Fees

In a letter, dealers accuse the fair of shifting the financial burden "solely to the galleries."

The Dallas Art Fair. Photo: Jason Acton.

Earlier this month, the organizers of the Dallas Art Fair announced the cancelation of this year’s event, and they made it clear that they did not intend to reimburse the deposits or booth fees that participating galleries had already paid.  

Now, 34 of those galleries, including James Cohan, Hollis Taggart Galleries, and Galerie Lelong, have sent a letter to addressed to fair chairman John Sughrue demanding a refund. A copy of the letter has been shared with Artnet News. 

“Your decision not to refund any booth fees following the cancellation of the Dallas Art Fair in 2020 is not acceptable,” reads the letter, which was shared with Artnet News. It accuses organizers of shifting the “financial burden of the cancellation of the fair solely to the galleries.”

“Only once you agree to refund a substantial portion of our fees will we consider participating in future editions of the Dallas Art Fair,” the letter continues. “The value of your business and our engagement with it are inextricably connected.”

The signatories argue that other fairs forced to cancel their 2020 editions have refunded between 75 to 100 percent of booth fees, “demonstrating that they value their partners and will make sacrifices in order to act in a way that reflects the reliance of their business model on their exhibitors.”

Fair organizers acknowledged that they had received the letter, but said it wouldn’t change their minds. “We are not in the financial position to issue cash refunds to our dealers,” read a statement from fair leadership. “Dallas is a city with a strong sense of community and where relationships matter, and we are grateful to the many exhibitors expressing their support for the future success of the Dallas Art Fair. Those dealers willing to invest in our community are the ones rewarded with the support of our community.”

Dallas Art Fair. Courtesy of Daniel Driensky.

Dallas Art Fair. Courtesy of Daniel Driensky.

Originally scheduled to run this spring, the 2020 edition of the fair was postponed to October due to the health crisis. An auxiliary, virtual version of the event was mounted on the fly in April, and their efforts were largely successful, bringing in an estimated $3 million in sales. 

Even then they remained adamant in their plans to hold the traditional in-person expo later on in the year. But as the rescheduled fall date grew nearer, public-health concerns continued to mount in Texas, forcing the event organizers’ to cancel the 2020 edition outright. 

To the galleries that had already paid to participate in the fair, it offered a 50 percent credit for each of the next two editions. That decision didn’t sit well with many dealers though, especially those who had put down the full booth fee, which—for at least one gallery—cost upwards of $30,000. 

“It’s getting rather bitter,” said the dealer of that gallery, who wished to remain anonymous. “In a very Trumpian way, they’ve managed to turn the whole thing on its head and suggest that the people who are complaining have no sense of community spirit.”

“If anyone has the moral high ground, it’s the exhibitors, the ones who lost all their money,” the dealer adds.

The letter calls on the fair organizers to respond by tomorrow or else the dealers would pursue “further action.” The Dallas Art Fair has not yet responded directly to the group.

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