The Art Fair Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

On November 9, art lovers from far and wide will convene at The American School Foundation’s Art Fair, which is proudly celebrating its 50th anniversary. The PA’s most important fundraiser and highly anticipated community event, offers visitors the opportunity to interact with artists and purchase art and crafts from over 100 emerging artists who display their work around campus. Guests are treated to live music performances, food and beverage booths from different school clubs and sponsors, and an interactive children’s art area run by volunteers, hosting creative workshops for the younger students. 

An excerpt from Focus magazine published in 1991 reads, “For the uninitiated, the words ‘Art Fair’ convey only a nebulous image of a social affair obviously related to the arts and artists. But for hundreds of volunteers, their families and friends, the Art Fair is a way of life, a frame of mind and a point around which large groups of people rally. For months at a time, at homes throughout the city, phones start ringing at 8:00 a.m., routine tasks go undone, and children no longer ask why there are strangers in the hallway or paintings in the car.”

Harriet Austin

ASF is a recognized leader in artistic education, thanks to its rich K-12 arts curriculum and state-of-the-art facilities. The School advances the arts by offering both IB and AP arts programs to its students, and by hosting exhibitions, performances, lectures and workshops with visiting artists and creators over the course of the school year. The Art Fair, which is held on the second Saturday of November every year, helps highlight the role that art, sculpture, photography and design play in ASF, and embodies the reasons that make this School such a unique place. During the fair, a strong sense of community and an appreciation of the arts come together for a day of family celebration. 

Fifty years have seen the fair evolve from a small, private gathering to a public event that welcomes thousands of guests on campus. So how did it all start, and who were the visionaries behind it? An excerpt published in ‘Amistad Magazine of American Society of Mexico’ states, “The original idea grew when Jeannette Martínez, Lola García and Harriet Austin approached the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Robert McBride and Mrs. McBride for their support in helping to put on an art fair. Ambassador McBride, whose father was Curator of the National Museum in Washington D.C., not only was taken with the idea but offered the grounds of the U.S. Embassy residence as the setting.” Therefore, from 1970 to 1982, the Art Fair was held in the U.S. Embassy residence.

At the time, Lola García was serving as President of the PTA, and she suggested to the PTA Board that an Art Fair might produce greater interest and better results. The Board liked the idea and approved the project. Lola, along with Harriet Austin and Janet Martínez, served as the first Co-Chairs of the fair.

“My years of involvement with the American School Foundation were educational, enlightening, and rewarding. I loved every minute of it! I served as PTA President, VP of the ASF Board, and Chairman of the Education Committee. But perhaps the thing that was most fun and gratifying for me was my service as Chairman of the first Art Fair and Chairman of the Artists Committee for all the years that the Fair was held at the Embassy Residence,” shared Lola García.

While it was truly all-hands-on-deck, and everyone jumped in where needed, Lola’s focus was to secure the artists that would be showcasing their work. She contacted the artists, interviewed them, selected the pieces that would be shown, and ensured the artists were happy with their participation. Not one artist ever refused an invitation to participate from that first fair on. After a few years, Lola also began to work with art galleries in securing pieces to be shown. Lola held the post of Chair of the Artist Committee every year until the fair moved from the US Embassy Residence to ASF.

My mother and Jeannette Martínez were behind the first Art Fair. Jeannette was a quiet person but very bright while my mother was the more gregarious one, they made a good team. They would discuss endlessly in our living room how to organize an event to feature extraordinary Mexican art and position this as an event that no one would want to miss." - Cathy Austin (‘78), ASF Alumna and former Trustee.

The organizers wanted the Art Fair to have a very American feel to it, so they asked Stewart Cornew and the Boy Scouts to cook pounds and pounds of their famous barbecued spare ribs. The Chairs asked the Bear Boosters to handle the refreshments; the Boy Scouts handled carrying in all the artwork, and the Girl Scouts helped the artists set up their space. It was truly a community event! "I vividly remember the importance of placing a gin bottle under the bush the night before The Fair in order to keep the rain at bay.” shared Cathy. PA President, Paulina Silva (‘89), says that this tradition has been kept alive to this day.

As a young mother, the first committee that I worked on was the Art Fair, with Millie Santa Maria, then president of the PTA and mother of current Trustee and ASF dad, John Santa Maria (‘75). The PTA used part of the profits from the fair each year to fund  Financial Aid scholarships, along with financial assistance to help students attend the MUN and other programs." - Frances Huttanus, Trustee, Art Fair Chair (‘86) and proud ASF grandmother.

In the beginning, all of the artists donated a work of art and there was a section at the fair called “Donations”, where they were put up for sale, and the funds from the sales would go directly to the School. The first Art Fairs probably featured works by 20 artists at the most, because the garden in the Ambassador’s house couldn’t hold more." - Adele Goldschmied, former ASF Art teacher and long-time exhibitor. 

Community service has always been a pillar of our values at ASF, and a percentage of the profits were originally destined to external charities and organizations. “Some of the foundations and projects the Art Fair helped support include: Casa de la Amistad, Lazos, Fundación México Unido, Campamento Arco Iris, and for two consecutive years, funds were destined to building a classroom inside the Díaz Lombardo Children’s Hospital,” Clemen explained. Contests were organized by teachers and students to sell tickets for the Art Fair, creating a buzz in the community, and every year, they were sold by the thousands. “Ever since the beginning, the fair brings together different groups from our community. I find it wonderful, because they do not contribute with money but  rather with their work and effort,” expressed Clemen Aguilar, from the Student Records office, an ASF employee and former teacher, former Art Fair Committee Treasurer for nine years, and a proud ASF grandmother, who was also actively involved with the fair. 

Cathy Austin

The other half was used by the PTA for Financial Aid and other internal projects. “One year the Art Fair raised funds for the PTA Plaza”, explained Ana Elena Pérez (’85), ASF mom, long-time volunteer and current Alumni Association President. The School’s Athletic facilities also benefited greatly from the fair. 

The first official donation to the ASF from the Art Fair was earmarked for the construction of the dressing rooms alongside the pool. Subsequent donations included funds for the creation of the Language Lab, the construction of the Casita to serve refreshments near the football field, the redesign of the library interior and acquisition of books, and the purchase of an oven for art class.

Frances Huttanus

An excerpt from Focus magazine published in 1991 reads, “Over the years, a wide variety of projects have been financed by Art Fair profits, among them, the contributions to the building of the auditorium, gymnasium, swimming pool, Middle School, snack bar and language center, the opening of a computer center and the purchase of every conceivable type of educational equipment.”

In times of tragedy, the Art Fair jumped on board. For example, the enormous need generated by the 1985 earthquake motivated the Parent Association Organizing Committee to allocate part of its ticket sale profits towards a total reconstruction of the Alberto Correa School. Years later, after the tragedy of 9/11, an excerpt from Focus magazine published in 2002 reads, “the PTA mounted a special gallery of donated art, which was sold to benefit the victims of September 11. Because of the generosity of artists and friends of ASF we were able to send the “Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund” a check for over $5,000 USD to commemorate the first anniversary of this tragedy.”

It was also a family affair. “It was definitely a huge influence in my life. I remember going to artist’s studios with my Mom and sitting quietly while she discussed their art. There I heard about how artists approach their work, and learned about materials, color and texture. It’s where I cultivated appreciation for art in general and Mexican artists in particular, something I am extremely grateful for as it has enriched my life immeasurably,” shared Lolis García-Baab, Lola García's daughter. 

Year by year, the event grew larger. “They started featuring an artist of the year. Among the honored artists were José Luis Cuevas, Sebastián, Mary Stuart and Leonora Carrington, whose grandkids attend ASF,” shared Adele. Over the years, institutions such as, “the Tamayo Museum, the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, Casa Estudio Frida Kahlo/ Diego Rivera and the Warhol Foundation in the U.S. became involved,'' stated Pat Patterson, K-12 Visual Arts Coordinator. 

Many artists established their reputation through their involvement with the Art Fair, and certainly many of them became quite prominent. There were also many established artists that wanted to have their work shown as the Embassy event became quite prestigious. The first artists at the first Art Fair were so happy with the results that they returned every year. Some notable names that exhibited their work were: Luis Amendola, Miguel García Ceballos, Gustavo Montoya, Alberto Vázquez Navarrete, Leonardo Neirman, Trinidad Osorio, Juan Ramírez and Mario Antonio Zepeda.

An excerpt published in ‘Amistad Magazine of American Society of Mexico’ in 1979 stated, “This year’s Art Fair has an outstanding list of artists. To mention a few: Feliciano Bejar, who will be showing for the first time; Luis Toledo, Pedro Friedeberg, Romeo Tabuena, Luis Nishizawa, Gen. Ignacio Beteta and Guillermo Mesa.” Each artist contributes a piece of his work and proceeds from the sale of these works are directly for the benefit of the PTA.” Over the years, the event became famous and attracted large crowds. Therefore, John Gavin, the U.S. ambassador, suggested that the fair should find another venue as the Ambassador’s residence was too small. In 1983, the first Art Fair was held on campus at ASF.

The larger venue not only allowed more people to attend, but also raised the question “why don’t we involve our students in the fair?” Therefore, as of 2006, the Parent Association decided to feature a student Artist of the Year, from the IB Visual Arts Programme. The talented students who have been able to exhibit their work so far have been: Jennifer Troice (2006), Francisco Cordero (2007), Bum Joo Kim (2008), Matías Armendariz (2009), Sharon Moon (2010), Gosbinda Vizarretea (2011), Bernardo Berruga (2012), Natalia García Clark (2013), Lucía Ocejo and Fiona Käch (2014), Alia Suhaimi and Michel Gantous (2015), Majo Robles (2016), Erik Daniels (2017) and Thalassa Kariya (2018). This year, the talented Manuela Cosío (2019) will join the list. This idea radically transformed the art fair, and “as of today, the Art Fair is more inclusive. Parents come because there are students performing, students selling things and that’s a good thing. It has become a beautiful community event,” expressed Adele.

In 2007, the PA started instilling student art themes for the art fair, in collaboration with art teachers. We started working on the theme in the spring and worked throughout the fall with our students, pushing them to the limit to come up with innovative projects. Some themes that stand out in my memory were: Frida and Diego, Magritte, Surrealism, Heritage, Andy Warhol, Motion, Self, Utopia, Dreams, and Transform, which is this year's theme." - Pat Patterson, K-12 Visual Arts Coordinator. 

“I first participated in 2007, showing oil paintings and watercolors. It was fun to be a part of the exhibition in the garden. Teachers have always been encouraged to participate with their own creations. There was one year when the front of the Founders’ Garden was full of arts and humanities teachers from across ASF. It just depends on whether or not our teaching artists have enough work and time to participate, but they are always invited by the PA,” added Pat. 

Faculty and staff have also played a fundamental role at the Art Fair over the years, as Adele explained, “I exhibited at the Art Fair for 34 consecutive years. Probably the longest anyone has. I even missed a wedding because I felt I had a responsibility to go to the Art Fair! I loved it because year after year I’d see my students, they’d come back and tell me what they were doing, I really enjoyed seeing them. The important part for me was to be able to stay connected to them,” shared Adele. 

Volunteers worked hard every year all year long to get the art fair to be as successful as it was year after year. “I never heard a complaint from our volunteers about the long hours required to plan and execute this wonderful event. I have grand memories of Nidia Maldonado, Linda Litchi, Tom Baird, and so many others pulling together every year. It was hard work but extremely satisfying. And did I mention fun?!” added Lola García.

“The Art Fair is a very meaningful long-standing tradition for ASF, as it is an event that brings the whole community together. Many hearts and hands have worked collectively over the years, allowing it to evolve and transform to become what it is today. This year’s Art Fair celebrates its Golden Anniversary and it is with great pride that for 50 years the Parent Association volunteers have organized and hosted this magnificent event that celebrates the Arts,” concluded Paulina.   

The Art Fair Committee would like to thank all the contributing artists, volunteers and supporters who made this Fair possible. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the selfless dedication of everyone who has been involved with the Art Fair over the past 50 years. 

We would also like to thank the maintenance department for setting up over 200 temporary exhibition walls, tents, easels and electricity every year, and for keeping everything clean. Also, the technical support staff that has installed more projectors, screens, speakers, and interactive exhibitions every year as technology plays a bigger role in the arts; and the cleaning staff who works hard both during and after the Art Fair. The success of this fundraising event also relies heavily on sponsors, suppliers and donations from businesses and individuals in our community, so we would like to extend our grateful thanks for their generosity.

Visit the 50th Art Fair webpage to learn more