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A Conversation with Carey Chiaia of The Publications and Multiples Fair

The Publications and Multiples Fair is organized annually by Open Space Gallery in Baltimore. A weekend-long event, artists, designers, galleries and publishers are invited to display and sell work, as well as present on a topic of interest as part of the fair’s programming. Open Space also curates an exhibition to run in conjunction with the fair each year.

The fair has become a staple in Baltimore’s contemporary art scene, bringing a diversity of creative people together under one roof. The Fourth Annual PMF took place on the weekend of March 8. The fair was re-located to the D-Center, a project space in Baltimore’s Station North Arts and Entertainment district with a focus on design.With over 65 vendors and three days’ worth of programming, the PMF is an ambitious endeavor carried out by the dedicated members of the gallery collective with the help of the community. This year the fair coincided with two other events, well attended through cross-promotion. Noel Freibert curated The Tortured Page, a group exhibition of one page comics at Current Space, a gallery and studio space in downtown Baltimore. Molly O’Connell curated Freak-Flash, a one night screening of psychedelic and surreal animated shorts to kick off the fair’s after party, hosted at the Floristree, a performance space located in Baltimore’s Seton Hill.

I sat down with Carey Chiaia, an Open Space collective member and a key organizer of the PMF, to discuss the organization of the fair. Carey works in design and events programming, as well as teaching video production for Wide Angle Youth Media in Baltimore Maryland.

Max Guy: Who was involved in organizing the PMF?

Carey Chiaia: Everyone involved in Open Space had a hand in it for sure, but the core group of people was Conor Stechshulte, Jasmine Sarp and I. Conor did a lot of the legwork in terms of programming and also outreach to the vendors. Jasmine and handled outreach to the vendors as well. Jasmine did pretty much all of the design work. I handled a lot of the logistics, figuring out where it was going to be, making sure there were tables, generally making sure that everyone was happy. But really everyone who is involved in Open Space had some sort of hand in it, making sure that the whole event happened smoothly.

MG: So tabling and programming was based on open call, and you also contacted prospective vendors?

CC: We reached out to everybody involved [in the PMF] in years past, which was quite a few of the people there. We also reached out to other people that we’ve met through our own practices and other fairs that we’ve done. There was also the open call, so there were quite a few people who came through that. It was a multi-faceted approach to get the most diverse group of people possible, doing super-quality work.

MG: Was there a large out-of-city crowd? Where were people coming from?

CC: My guess is that it was about half and half. I could go through the list and parse it out, but as I’m looking at it in my head I would say it was about half and half folks from the outside of the city, many of them from New York, Boston, a couple of folks from Philly, and others coming from as far out as Seattle, and Chicago.

MG: Did you find that out-of-city visitors came from similar functioning art scenes in their respective cities?

CC: I can’t necessarily speak to that with everybody; I think one of the nice things about the fair is that it brings together a lot of different kinds of people. People who are doing very professional work – people who are making their living off of what they are showing at the fair in various capacities and scales – to somebody who makes zines and tapes on the side. It’s a really nice range of people. I can only speak of the folks that I know personally, but many of the cities that were represented, Providence, New York, Chicago, L.A., have scenes that in one way or another are similar to Baltimore. Every place has its own thing going on and some of those cities I have personally not been to.

MG: Even here in Baltimore there are different modes of production, some people making a living off of what they are doing, other maybe are just starting or working in their spare time.

CC: That’s one thing that I’ve really liked seeing as the fair has grown. There is definitely a wider range in project scales. It started off as something that tended to be younger people who were just starting out, to whom the fair is still open. I hope it continues to be that way. There aren’t barriers like there are in other kinds of art fairs – where you need to have a catalogue that you’ve built up. We keep the table price pretty low to welcome people who are operating on a small scale or just starting out, but we also want to welcome people who are doing bigger things and who have been at this for a long time. We want it to be an environment that’s conducive to those folks and worthwhile for them to participate in.

MG: How did the location change things?

CC: Our initial decision to move it to the D-Center had to do with space. The fair had outgrown Open Space physically, we needed a bigger space, and the D-Center seemed like it was a good fit. We know people there, so it was a pretty easy thing to make happen. Being a designated arts and entertainment district, Station North also has a larger audience than Open Space does as a single entity. Station North was really great in helping us promote, putting us on their newsletter, etc. I also think that people are more conditioned to go to events in Station North because it’s closer to the neighborhoods where a big part of Open Space’s audience lives, exists and hangs out. The D-Center is on the ground floor of the North Avenue Market; North Avenue and Charles Street are two of the biggest thoroughfares in the city. So when you say it’s at North Ave and Charles it makes a lot more sense than 28th and Sisson Street. Also North Ave and Charles Street are pretty much the geographic center of the city, which is something I’ve always loved about that building.

MG: Were there any technical difficulties in organizing the fair or during the fair?

CC: Nothing major that I can think of at least; as far as during the fair, set up is always a little crazy, there’s that thing of making sure everyone is happy. Because there was a lot of communication beforehand with everybody – we knew a lot of the people that we were working with personally, once or twice removed –everyone was super accommodating to anything that we were trying to work out last minute. We were trying to be super accommodating to everyone’s needs as well. Overall, I think everyone was pretty happy, and felt pretty good about it. As far as the technical difficulties in terms of organizing stuff – it can be hard to organize a big event like this when you’re also working full-time, trying to program a gallery and keep everything running smoothly. The fair was three times as big this year, so it took three times as much effort to make it work. But I was blown away by how well everything came together and that nothing terrible happened [laughs]; and that (at least to my knowledge) no one walked away bummed out or disenchanted or unhappy. I feel like for everybody that I talked to who was involved behind the scenes, things worked out well. Nothing blew up in our faces.

MG: I’d imagine that being on the scale that it is at this point, that you can still consider the placement of the vendors.

CC: That was definitely something that we took as much care into [doing] as we could. There’s the initial question that we ask the vendors of, “who do you want to be next to?” Not many of the other fairs we’ve participated in have really ever asked us. Having been a vendor at fairs in the past it’s often helpful to have someone you know next to you. Not just because you’re stuck sitting next to that person for the whole weekend, but because you have to go and get some food, and you want your friend to watch your table. The care we took came from us being in the same spot three months ago and trying to figure out as many of the little hiccups – the little pitfalls that can happen – this time around. I feel like I was having these flashbacks to being a teacher, which is what I do full-time. When you’re placing kids into groups it’s like alchemy, where you’re thinking, “when I put this kid in this group, and this kid in the same group, then the whole thing is going to blow up.” So you’re kind of making sure that everyone’s personalities jive with one another. Not to say that this was a problem with the vendors. Everyone was very laid back and super-cooperative; everyone had such a good attitude all weekend and I wouldn’t worry about putting anyone next to anyone else. It’s almost like setting people up on a date, where you think “oh this person would totally get along with this person we should totally put them next to each other.” Or “this work really makes sense with each other.”

MG: Can you talk about networking at the fair?

CC: I met a lot of people at the fair; there were tons of people who came that I didn’t know. Many were friends of friends; some of whose work I was familiar with so meeting them was really wonderful. Just kind of seeing what people are up to. I am planning on going to New York in a couple of weeks and there are a million new places that I need to check out now just because of people that I met. I think that was a lot of it. The weekend can be very crazy, and so networking is very much at the back of my head. But I hope some of those things will materialize for future fairs. People who came will tell their friends, “Oh you’ve got to come down to this fair in Baltimore!” That’s definitely how it’s happened in the past. More people are familiar with us as a space. Hopefully we’ll get more awesome proposals from people out of town who want to do shows in Baltimore. I think networking with other galleries is something we all feel is really important but often can be really difficult to do in terms of time and resources, but it would be rad if another gallery trade came out of it. That’s something that I’m hopeful for, and it’s great to stay in touch with people who have come back to the fair year after year.

MG: You’ve spoken a little about promotion already, or rather outreach. There was a lot of cross-promotion of events including, The Tortured Page at Current Space, Freak Flash at the Floristree and Check Marks at Open Space.

CC: I think that this year cross-promotion was the most coordinated. Last year we had planned the fair so that it coincided with the BMA Print Fair, and there was a lot of “oh we should cross promote,” with other spaces. People were busy, and it didn’t work out quite as well as it did this year. There was a real effort to make these things work together. We also do a show that works in conjunction with the fair every year. This year it was Check Marks. When I was talking about people who worked on the fair, I realized that it should be noted what an amazing job Connor did with facilitating Check Marks. He did 90% of the legwork and was awesome at it. Being the first time that the fair didn’t take place in the the gallery, there was this sort of “satellite” situation. There was Noel, who curated The Tortured Page, with whom we are in contact a lot of the time and knew that we were doing the fair. We talk to the folks at Current Space all of the time. We wanted to make sure that there was a good flow of people going to the fair, the show at Current and the after party at Floristree. We’re doing this stuff with limited resources but it’s also a really amazing opportunity for people to step in and help out with stuff. So Floristree having us and hosting the party there was really awesome. Making sure everything really connected, keeping things cohesive. I kept joking with people that we had already planned the whole weekend out for them, but in a way it was very true.

MG: I only just started thinking of how this functioned independent of the BMA and their print fair – the solidarity between spaces here is pretty incredible in that sense. What about an annual event like this as opposed to having something like a “first Friday” monthly gallery tour, works for Baltimore?

CC: I’ve been trying to think about this more. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years. I think Baltimore is a very event-based town, so something like a pop up event makes sense. You look at the things that have been really successful in the past like the Transmodern Festival or Whartscape – among many – they’re these festivals. That’s kind what the fair is– a festival. It’s really nice for people to be able to rally around something, which I think happened more this year than it ever has with the fair and I was happy to see that. It’s sort of this coming together that works, and this isn’t the first year that a lot similar galleries were involved. SophiaJacob, Guest Spot, Current… There are these other places that are doing something similar to what we do and they’re there, represented, which is something I’d like to see more of. Not everyone produces multiples or editions, and that doesn’t mean we want people to be left out. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to involve everybody.

MG: Seeing how galleries would represent their programming models on a table was definitely interesting, i.e., SophiaJacob translating their curating model into a publication, miaaiden.

I was so stoked to see that, and to watch how everyone’s navigation of it is different. So Rod at Guest Spot had a bunch of multiples by artists he works with, Current Space had a lot of prints and work from previous projects, because they work a lot with prints in that space. It’s a part of who they are. SophiaJacob took this other direction, a catalogue based approach. All these spaces are so different and we want to see everybody represented in this table format, but it’s always really wonderful to see how everybody does stuff differently. It was incredibly diverse. I’ve been trying to find a trend in the publications and multiples that were distributed. There wasn’t really anything to pinpoint, which was really nice.

CC: And we want to keep it that way, I feel like that’s how we try to run our program and why should the fair be any different? There are fairs out there that have a specific “thing,” which it totally fine. There’s a photo book fair in Philly, the camera club in New York does a photo book/zine fair. I think that makes sense in a lot of ways, but at Open Space we really try to keep our programming different. Hopefully when you are expecting one type of thing we can give you something different that you will enjoy.

MG: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

CC: Just how amazing everybody was, all the vendors, Floristree, Current, everyone at Open Space. Just what an amazing job everybody did.

For more information and press on the Publications and Multiples Fair, please visit:–multiples-fair/

All images courtesy of Open Space Gallery, Baltimore, MD.

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