Donna Davies is Director of SOFA CHICAGO: Sculptural Objects Functional Art and Design.  This year’s show, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, runs from October 31st to November 3rd in Festival Hall at Navy Pier in Downtown Chicago.  I asked Donna about the show, what’s new this year and also … what’s the point of art?

MICHAEL: Hi Donna, First of all, SOFA is all about sculptural objects, functional art and design. As director, I'm sure you're mainly focused on the business side of things, but what excites you personally about this fair? Apart from making sure it goes off without a hitch, of course ...

DONNA: Hi Michael. Yes, as Director, I'm certainly focused on making sure our year-long preparations for the fair go well, especially this year for our 20th year of SOFA CHICAGO. And as a 20-year-old fair, we've developed long-term relationships with our exhibiting dealers, their artists, our lecturers, including curators and critics and of course, the collectors and all visitors of the fair. So, one of the things I look forward to each year is seeing everyone again, some of whom we haven't seen since last year's fair and catching up on what everyone has been doing for the past year. But I'm also most excited about seeing the galleries' booths and am always prepared to be blown away by the works exhibited.

MICHAEL: What's new this year at SOFA? It must be a challenge to keep it fresh and exciting year after year.

DONNA: We are introducing CONNECT this year, which features art and design schools that will be creating design installations/environments on the show floor where show visitors can sit and engage in dialogue with one another, with the schools or just to have a respite within the fair -- a place to "connect." We wanted to highlight the trends in art and design by featuring what is happening in the universities. Each of the CONNECT plazas will feature work by students under the guidance of their faculty advisor. This year's schools include University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland; Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn; University of California, Davis; and University of Iowa, Iowa City. The CONNECT plazas will be juried by a panel who will award the winning school's design a $2500 cash award, sponsored by Chubb Personal Insurance and the students are also participating with Corning Museum of Glass to design objects/prototypes. The top three design pieces will be created by Corning artists and will be exhibited this year in Chubb Personal Insurance's booth at the fair. There will also be a panel discussion with each school's faculty advisor of CONNECT, which will be moderated by Tim Parsons, Associate Professor in Designed Objects at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago.

MICHAEL: We're living during such a weird economic time when no one seems to have the answers. Surely the super-wealthy are still buying art, but I would imagine art fairs have had a tough go of it, No?

DONNA: Certainly, art fairs have been affected just as all businesses, but art fairs have changed the landscape for how galleries operate and how collectors buy art. The galleries do the fairs to meet new and existing clientele and the collectors are attending the fairs to see what work is exciting and new. So in a sense, fairs have replaced artist openings in the galleries and the fairs present these opportunities for dealers, collectors, and artists to connect.  That’s why we produce fairs -- for the galleries and artists to have success and for collectors to have a venue for acquiring new work. So we have been lucky in that regard.

MICHAEL: Very nice. Finally Donna, what's the point of all of this? Why art and design? What are they really contributing to the world? Shouldn't we be discussing a cure for cancer or a way to endless homelessness or the world fiscal mess? Why art?

DONNA: Great question. Because art and design is a reflection of what is happening in our world now. Twenty, forty, eighty years from now, people -- curators, critics, professors, and others - will look back at the visual arts as an indicator of what else was happening in the world at this time. Artists and designers may tackle some of these fiscal, health and other global issues that are currently occurring in their work while others may not make such direct references to it. Art puts into context the multi-layered issues and complexities that are happening in our world.

MICHAEL: Indeed.  Thanks Donna.  Cool chat.  Have a great show.

To find out more about SOFA CHICAGO, check out