Dallas Art Fair Director Kelly Cornell Knows Her Hometown Has Great Things Ahead

Dallas Art Fair Director Kelly Cornell took a break from the fair's opening day to chat about the challenges and rewards of her role.

Dallas Art Fair director Kelly Cornell. Exploredinary

Amongst the global thicket of art fairs that often aspire to peak bombast, the Dallas Art Fair stands out for its intimacy, eagerness and its commitment to excellence. Every year since 2016, the fair has added works of art to the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection via the Dallas Art Fair Foundation Acquisition Program, and last year, the fair scaled down its normal operations to host “Four x Five,” a hybrid in-person and virtual exhibition that featured a total of nine art galleries. In 2021, with things essentially back in full swing, Dallas Art Fair Director Kelly Cornell took a break from the fair’s opening day to chat with Observer about the challenges and rewards of her role.

Artist Caledonia Curry’s ‘The House Our Families Built’ installation. Helen Holmes

Observer: What was it about the Dallas art community that helped carry you guys through the pandemic and into 2021? 
Cornell: The community supported all the things that we tried along the way. For many months we had installations in our pop-up gallery space next to our office space in the Design District, we had a show called “Four x Five” where we had four galleries come and take over the space in person and it was coupled with five galleries online. We also had funds from our Dallas Art Fair Foundation Acquisition fund that we were able to give to the DMA and the Nasher [Sculpture Center]. That continued generosity from the foundation paired with the support of the museums, the community and collectors coming out to buy works from those shows, the galleries doing what we always do on their behalf: trying to make connections. There’s a unique sense of camaraderie and community here where we all work together to make things the best we can.

Being offered the chance to see inside collectors’ homes is amazing, too. The hospitality is very much appreciated. 
There are some amazing collections here, and I feel like people never stop collecting, at many levels. One thing I’m also really looking forward to is as Dallas as a city is growing so much in our population, I think for us to continue to strengthen our brand and our identity amongst our newcomers, we play an important role in energizing that next great group of collectors and I think that’s exciting. A lot of people from California and New York moved to Dallas during the pandemic, and picked up their roots and planted them here. There never used to be traffic like there is now, and our restaurants are always packed. I think it’ll be good for our art market here.

Sarah Cain’s ‘Jamillah,’ (2021), from BROADWAY gallery, was one of the choices for collection selected by the DMA. Helen Holmes

I also love that the Foundation Acquisition Program is one of the central features of the fair. How does that work? 

[The DMA] have had over $550,000 over the last five years to work with the fair, and there’s a group of donors that make up the pot for each year. They get to tour with the curators and the conservation staff and everyone from the DMA. It’s crazy how streamlined the process is, how they really allowed us to expedite it and make things efficient so we can do this and get works into the permanent collection. It’s really cool inside access for those donors that are part of the fund. The DMA makes the ultimate decisions, and theres normally a vision: over the past five years, there’s been over works collected, and most of them on view pretty soon after, which is really cool.

Dallas Art Fair Director Kelly Cornell Knows Her Hometown Has Great Things Ahead