SOFA Chicago Celebrates 20 Years

When SOFA Chicago announced that Donna Davies would be director of the art fair two years ago, Ms. Davies started preparing for the big celebration. And here it is upon us – the 20th anniversary of SOFA Chicago.

An impressive background in Art, Ms. Davies has a BA and MA in Art History. Prior to running SOFA Chicago, Ms. Davies ran a gallery in Chicago for fifteen years. The gallery used to exhibit at SOFA, so she has always been connected to the art fair. Ms. Davies shares, “I feel very fortunate to not only be part of this community, but to have experience many different aspects of it. I always want my depth of experience to influence the fair, but I also always hope to look at it with a fresh perspective.”

To keep SOFA fresh and innovative, Ms. Davies says, “Two main objectives have been at the heart of SOFA since its inception: to create a high-quality international marketplace for galleries and dealers, and to also have high-quality educational programming that all fair visitors can attend to listen, discuss, and ask questions of the artists, curators and experts in the field.”

As director of SOFA, Ms. Davies has plans for the next 20 years. She states, “It’s extremely important to me to continue with the original mission of the fair — to create an exciting venue for international galleries to exhibit, sell, promote, and market their artists’ work, and to continue our educational programming with the same commitment. What we’ve created at SOFA Chicago over 20 years is an important marketplace but we’ve also created a community where galleries, collectors, curators, critics, enthusiasts, students, and more come together to reunite, make connections, and engage.”

Asked how the galleries are selected to exhibit in SOFA, Ms. Davies explains, “I carefully review the galleries who apply to exhibit in the fair and only select those galleries who present quality programs of art and design with a focus on materials. Our fair has a unique focus on materiality and so those mediums, such as design/furniture, glass, wood, textiles, and studio jewelry will be found, but I also want to have an international breadth to the fair. We have nearly a dozen new galleries exhibiting in this year’s fair and one of the highest numbers of international galleries exhibiting this year with 17 galleries from 13 different countries.” Every year the fair boasts over 35,000 visitors over the 3-day weekend. The galleries receive tremendous exposure connecting with new collectors, curators and museum directors.

Ms. Davies added a new exhibition to the fair this year, CONNECT, a competition between five schools. The object of the competition is for students to design an engaging lounge section containing seating, lighting, and design elements in a 576-square-foot area. The winning school will take home a $2,500 prize, generously donated by sponsor Chubb Personal Insurance.

Want to see something unique at the fair? Ms. Davies has a couple of suggestions, “Amber Cowan, represented by Heller Gallery, uses American pressed glass from the 1940s-80s, and she ‘recycles’ the glass by destroying these pressed goblets and other forms and reworking them through a technique called flameworking or lampworking. And Colby Parsons, represented by Lacoste Gallery, who incorporated video projection onto ceramic forms, so there’s a fascination juxtaposition of material and time.”

The Sculpture Objects Functional Art plus Design Fair opens in Festival Hall at Navy Pier on Thursday, October 31, with a special preview from 7-9PM; tickets are $50.00.

SOFA runs Friday, November 1,  11AM-7PM, Saturday, November 2, 11-7PM and  Sunday, November 3, 12-6pm
General admission: $15  |  Three-day pass $25  | Groups (10 & more) $12 (in advance)
Tickets are available at TicketWeb

Jo Nell Sieren Photograph


About Cindy Burns

Currently writing for TCW's 'Woman About Town' column, Cindy Burns covers Chicago's social scene, events, fashion, and interviews women and men who are making a difference in the world. With an M.A. in American History from DePaul University, Ms. Burns is an author, freelance writer, avid reader and researcher. Ms. Burns has spent over 20 years serving on charitable boards and organizations, and currently serves as a member of the Women's Board of the Joffrey Ballet and the Women's Auxiliary Board of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. She is also an Honorary Member of the Children's Service Board of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. When Ms. Burns isn't running around Chicago covering current events, you can find her biking, on the tennis courts, or hiking in a mountainous region of her choice.