Let’s Talk About Manchester Art Fair

Interview with Thom Hetherington, CEO, AVIVA Investors Manchester Art Fair

Manchester Art Fair is just around the corner and opening its doors for their preview night on Friday 11th October.

Add these dates to your diary now! Because Manchester Art Fair are kindly giving away FREE tickets to Own Art readers. Read our interview with Thom Hetherington and grab yourself the promo code below.

Manchester is a creative destination, how would you say the Manchester art scene has developed in recent years?

I would say it has developed in almost every way. The public institutions have stepped up, there are new artists’ studios emerging and new commercial galleries are opening around the city all the time. For us, though, the key development has been in the art buyers themselves; it’s a growing market and it’s becoming more discerning and demanding all the time.

What should we expect from this year’s Aviva Investors Manchester Art Fair?

As always, Aviva Investors Manchester Art Fair will deliver a broad selection of galleries and artists offering hundreds of pieces of work, all available to buy. This includes modern and contemporary paintings, sculpture, photography, and editioned prints. Returning to the fair for 2019 are Manchester favourites Saul Hay Gallery, Contemporary Six, and Artzu Gallery joined from further afield by Cornwall’s The Drang Gallery, Norfolk’s A Heart of Glass, and Subversion Gallery from Glasgow.

In the artist-led section of the fair, returning artists whose work has proven very popular with visitors in previous years include Laura Jordan’s detailed cityscapes, Lee Herring’s colourful abstract landscapes, and the raw expressive paintings of Ian Rayer Smith. The list also includes many exhibitors who are new to the fair, such as Cheshire’s Gateway Gallery who specialise in Modern British and contemporary artists, Cumbria’s Northern Lights Gallery bringing work inspired by the Lakeland fells, and Robert John Watson who will be exhibiting his contemporary photography. You can view a full selection of work here –

The Manchester Contemporary once again welcomes several international exhibitors from Spain, Germany and USA alongside UK exhibitors including Venture Arts, dalla rosa, Lungley Gallery and Platform A Gallery. Curated by Nat Pitt of Division of Labour, The Manchester Contemporary showcases the strength of the UK’s regional artists and galleries alongside key international presentations that can only be seen in Manchester.

What would you say are the biggest challenges and/or risks when organising and running an art fair?

The challenges are endless, and often conflicting. You have to serve the market, but also try to develop people’s tastes; you have to curate and balance the galleries and artists which you accept into the fair; you need to keep the favourites coming back but also have new works to excite your visitors; you need to focus on the fair but also consider how it fits into the broader arts ecology; you have to keep your integrity and judgement but also hit your commercial targets; you need to think about the most mundane operational issues whilst also being aware of the subtleties of booth lighting or visitor flow. When I write it all down it sounds terrifying, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

And the best perks?

That you get to meet and work with the most amazingly creative, talented and fascinating people, from artists and gallerists to curators and collectors, and that we really get to make a difference. Manchester’s cultural landscape, and particularly the art market, has changed beyond all recognition in the last decade, and we know that Manchester Art Fair has been a huge part of that. We are proud of our contribution and aware of the responsibility it brings. Another perk is that you tend to get the first view of all the art, so my partner (and Manchester Art Fair Director) Sophie and I tend to buy pieces every year!

What’s the best advice you could give to someone attending an art fair?

Relax and enjoy the experience, there is no pressure. Take your time, do a couple of circuits, and then grab a coffee and contemplate what you’ve seen and what had already lodged in your mind. Normally a response to art is quite visceral and immediate; that piece that caught your eye on your initial stroll around will end up being the one you can’t live without. And quite simply if you love it and can afford it, then buy it, don’t dither and risk non-buyer’s remorse!

What would you say makes Aviva Investors Manchester Art Fair stand out from other art fairs?

I think it is a little like the French wine concept of ‘terroir’, in that the fair is a product of Manchester and the wider North, and I couldn’t imagine it developing in the same way anywhere else. It serves an enormously passionate and wealthy demographic and shows the highest quality of art but the fair itself is incredibly accessible and manages to unite so many different elements of the art world. I don’t think any other fair can show traditional galleries, alongside critically engaged artist-led spaces, from both the UK and abroad, as well as public institutions, artists’ studios, art schools and even unrepresented artists. Historically the art world has sometimes felt like a series of unconnected bunkers, but I think Manchester Art Fair has brought everyone together, making it greater than the sum of its parts, and that is a very Mancunian philosophy.

“quite simply if you love it and can afford it, then buy it”

Do you have any advice for galleries when it comes to selecting Art Fairs to participate in?

Yes. It’s important to check the quality of galleries and artists who have exhibited previously and who are exhibiting in the coming iteration. Ideally, I would want to see a video of the fair, and certainly photography from the entire weekend, not just the launch party! Check social media as well, to see how active and engaged a fair is, and how they interact with their audiences. Make sure that any claimed visitor numbers seem sensible in terms of the venue and most importantly of all speak to exhibitors who have been at the event for a number of years, as they are clearly the ones for whom it works, and it’s good to understand why.

Aviva Investors Manchester Art Fair takes place on 11-13 October 2019 at Manchester Central.

Free weekend tickets are available for Own Art readers using promo code OWNART at