Sarah Mayhew Craddock hears that this weekend’s Art Fair and May’s artweeks more than make up for an alleged ‘lack of cultural events’

The country’s largest visual arts event, Oxfordshire Artweeks, was officially founded in 1981 and the first artweeks festival took place in 1982. The aim was to establish a county-wide event whereby the public could enjoy visual art away from the formality of a gallery setting, in a relaxed environment and with direct access to the artists who were free to cut out the commission-taking middle-man and sell their work directly to the public.

The annual festival has become so successful that it now boasts over 500 exhibitions each May (in addition to special exhibitions and events, tours, talks, workshops and demonstrations) – that’s a lot of art.

Last week I attended a talk at Modern Art Oxford and listened to the (relatively new) director, Paul Hobson, talk about his desire to help develop the cultural economy and ecology of Oxford. He commented on a need to “combat the conservatism” of the city, and for Modern Art Oxford to become a multi-faceted agency within the city that serves to create a self-sustaining and dynamic contemporary art scene equal to, and intrinsically linked to, the intellectual dynamism that the city is famed for. Hobson went on to talk about the need to develop a culture of collecting that would open up opportunities for early career artists living and working locally. He expanded on this commenting that one embryonic idea for this is for Modern Art Oxford to run an art fair providing a platform for selected local, national and international artists. I wonder what he’ll think of the forthcoming Oxford International Art Fair taking place at Oxford Town Hall this weekend.

Billed by the organisers, The Global Art Agency, as a “three-day art extravaganza”, the free event will welcome more than 150 international artists to the city to show a diverse collection of work varying from painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, illustrations and bespoke crafts.

Echoing the popular model used by Oxfordshire Artweeks, visitors to the event will be able to peruse the works on display at their leisure, meet the artists that created them, watch some of the artists at work, and buy pieces for their home, garden or work-place. Visiting members of the public will also be able to vote for ‘the best artists on show at the exhibition’ in the Oxford International Art Fair Awards. A panel of local judges including artist and art consultant Gareth Lloyd, art collector Joe Thomas, and Oxford-based artist, tutor and gallery owner Kieran Stiles will decide which artist wins the accolade of Best Oxford International Art Fair Artist 2014, with the winner being announced in a ceremony on Sunday 9 February at 2pm in Oxford Town Hall.

Dutch-born Joelle Dinnage and Spanish-born Natal Vallvé Betran, co-founders of The Global Art Agency, are at the helm of Oxford International Art Fair. Entrepreneurs of the art industry, they have previously organised successful art fairs across Europe in Amsterdam, Barcelona and Vienna, and decided that it was time to add Oxford to the portfolio. While 2014 marks the inaugural Oxford International Art Fair, event organiser Joelle Dinnage from The Global Art Agency is no stranger to arts events in Oxford, she explained, “For the past two years we have held art fairs with a festival flair for home-grown artists in the beautiful gardens of one of Oxford’s finest country pubs, where we had an amazing response from artists and visitors alike. We also artists from outside the UK wanting to come to Oxford.”

When asked if there is a selection process involved in participating in the art fair, Dinnage explained: “Yes, we try to select a great variety of artworks – paintings, photography, and sculpture. High quality pieces of fine art, new talent, and also urban art from established artists, emerging artists, local artists as well as artists from as far away as Russia, USA, Africa, Asia, Europe, Scandinavia, etc.”

Artists and galleries from over 23 countries will be represented at the fair. Oxford and county-based artists and galleries exhibiting with them will include: Samantha Ball, Alexis Cole, Junction Art Gallery, Carina Haslam Art Gallery, Nick Maitland, Gareth Lloyd, Kieran Stiles, Jim Munnion, and Kevin Duff.

I asked Joelle what her aspirations for the future of Oxford International Art Fair is, and her response mirrored the feelings that Paul Hobson shared.

“Oxford is a city of culture, yet in my opinion there is a lack of cultural events. This will become an annual event... there will be live painting, music, arts awards, and networking.”

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport said in January that the creative industries contributed well over five per cent to the UK’s economy in 2012, that’s well over £8m an hour, and it would seem that Oxford is looking to play an increasingly active part. So, whether it’s a painting to match the sofa, a sculpture to set-the-scene in the boudoir, crafty canal art for the garden, or investing in the work of a Turner Prize Winner of tomorrow, soon you might be able to do all that and more in a city whose art scene is looking increasingly prosperous.