Spirit of community drives inaugural Columbus Alt Art Book Fair

The event will take place in Weinland Park on Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Brett Davis and Christian Casas (green shirt) are organizing an art book fair with 50 vendors at Weinland Park this weekend (Photo by Tim Johnson)

Brett Davis has attended art book fairs in locales from New York City to Tokyo. And while each event has flashed its own unique character, he said the setup generally favors larger publishers, who can afford associated display costs and application fees. 

“So, you’ll have a photobook section, and a lot of designer houses and graphic design houses will have publications. And universities will be present, like Yale Architectural Press. And then you also have the large publishing houses,” Davis said. “And then what I hear from most other artists at these book fairs is that they’re doing it for exposure, and they’re not making money. Instead, they’re spending money to show work in a space that’s supposed to be more DIY.”

With the inaugural Columbus Alt Art Book Fair, which takes place in Weinland Park from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8, Davis and fellow co-founder Christian Casas wanted to broaden this scope, removing as many barriers to entry as possible in the hopes of creating a grassroots event reflective of the city’s diverse arts community.

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“Even the way we’ve designed the art fair, we’ve taken out every barrier of accessibility,” said Casas, who joined Davis in Weinland Park for an early May interview. “We have no application fee. We provide the tables and chairs. And we’ve done our best to provide as much literal space as possible (Casas gestures as the surrounding parkland).

"I think a lot of the artists that we have, this is their first time even showing their work to an audience, so it’s about getting eyes on their work but also making sure that the next generation of artists feels like their voice has a space, and also a community that is around them and supporting them.”

This community includes the residents of the surrounding Weinland Park neighborhood, with Davis and Casas stressing the importance of nearby residents feeling like a part of the fair rather than walled-off observers. To help facilitate this shared spirit, the two said they reached out early on to Weinland Park coalitions, eager to make neighbors a crucial part of the event.

“Weinland Park … is an area of Columbus that is very quickly being gentrified, and people are being pushed out, so we wanted to make that effort and figure out how to bring the community into the space, but also give something to the community,” Casas said. “We wanted to provide some sort of transformative action, right, that not only will bring people into the space but will also have them think about this space not just as another hot spot to buy a house. But to show there is culture and there is community, and all of these things are already happening here. … It was important we did get that seal of approval from the community.”

For the first go-round, the Alt Art Book Fair attracted around 50 vendors ranging from zine makers and comics artists to photographers and printmakers. Some will be selling their wares, while others will just be exhibiting. This diversity is reflective of the open-ended application process, with the two stripping away aspects that might have dissuaded some first-time exhibitors. Rather than requiring an artist’s statement, for instance, Casas said the two asked more basic questions of applicants. “It was pretty simple: Tell us why you want to be a part of the fair and tell us a little bit about yourself,” he said. 

Following the event, Casas and Davis plan to collect works from all of the displaying artists for a fall exhibit at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, a new arts space on the fringes of Franklinton — another aspect of the community building rooted in the event, which is funded in part by grants from the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio State.

“It’s been really great to just have this tiny model of what if we were just helping each other out? Wouldn’t everything just be a little bit easier?” Casas said. “This is also a collaborative project, and we’re artists approaching this in the same way we might collaborate in the studio. … So, with the two of us helping each other out, we’ve created this space where 50 people can have an opportunity, and now maybe those 50 people [will] help someone else out. We’re trying to create this model not only of possibility, but imagining what a community can be, as well.”