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Over 30 Galleries Sign Letter Demanding Refunds From Canceled Dallas Art Fair

“We don’t owe anybody any money,” John Sughrue, real estate developer and chairman of the Dallas Art Fair, told the Dallas Morning News.

The Downtown Dallas Arts District, where the Dallas Art Fair usually takes place (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

A total of 34 galleries slated to participate in this year’s Dallas Art Fair have pledged not to take part in future editions unless they are issued refunds for the now-canceled 2020 show.

The modern and contemporary art fair had to cancel its upcoming fall event due to coronavirus concerns and was highly criticized for its decision not to reimburse exhibitor booth fees. Instead, galleries were offered 50% booth credits for the upcoming 2021 and 2022 fairs. But that was not seen as sufficient by many participants, some of whom had already paid thousands of dollars in fees in full by the time the 2020 edition was called off, and a group of galleries has banded together to fight back.

In a letter to the Dallas Art Fair’s chairman and founder, John Sughrue, sent last week, the galleries requested “a substantial portion” of their fees refunded. Although they requested a response by last Friday, August 28, the 34 signatories — including both participants of the 2020 edition and galleries that signed in solidarity — told the Dallas Morning News on Monday that their demands had not yet been met.

“We are proprietors of small businesses who have made your vision of bringing art from around the world to Dallas collectors, curators and the public every year a reality,” the letter reads.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, Dallas Art Fair sent a statement saying that its finances were “dramatically impacted” by the cancelation of this year’s event.

“We are not in the financial position to issue cash refunds to our dealers, but in the spirit of collaboration, have offered dealers credits equal to their payments to be used at future fairs, the statement says. “This is far above and beyond our contract requirements and a gesture of goodwill to the galleries.”

Comparing the Dallas Art Fair’s financial capabilities to those of larger fairs like Art Basel and Frieze — which have given exhibitors full or substantial refunds for their canceled events this year — is “flattering” but “misguided,” the statement adds.

In an interview with the Morning News, Sughrue says that the fair is under no obligation to reimburse exhibitors for a canceled event. 

“We don’t owe anybody any money,” Sughrue said. “Per the contract, we don’t owe anybody any money because we lost money. Paying somebody back would mean we have a liability, which we do not.” He also added that the fair costs between $1.5 million and $2 million to produce, and that the company had spent the booth fees collected from participants on expenses such as salaries, marketing, and around half of the event’s production costs.

Sughrue co-owns the real estate development, investment, and advisory firm Brook Partners, which has been involved in development projects exceeding $1 billion since its inception in 1994, including Museum Tower, a 42-story luxury condominium high-rise in the Dallas Arts District, according to Sughrue’s company bio. In 2004, Brook Partners founded Fashion Industry Gallery (f.i.g.), a boutique wholesale venue also in the Arts District where the Dallas Art Fair takes place. According to data made available by the Small Business Administration (PPP), Brook Partners received a loan in the range of $150,000 to $350,000 from the government’s Payment Protection Program (PPP) in April.

Brook Partners has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, redirecting press inquiries to the Dallas Art Fair.

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