The Dallas Art Fair's Young New Director, Kelly Cornell, Has Big Plans for Its Future

Keep Dallas Observer Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

The Dallas Art Fair has established itself as a world-renowned and respected fair, exhibiting galleries and artists of international repute. Starting in 2017, the fair will evolve and expand under new leadership. Kelly Cornell, who began working at Dallas Art Fair as an SMU student intern in 2011, was just named the fair's new director.

“I was drawn to the idea of interacting with these galleries from all over the world,” Cornell says. “I was able to meet a handful of them during my first fair. I fell in love with the speed of the fair and the art world.”

When she returned to the fair after graduating from college, she was hired as an associate. Cornell would help out whenever needed with event execution, focusing on exhibitor relations. She got a behind-the-scenes education, getting to know galleries and artists from around the world.

“We have a very small team at the fair, and it really is all hands on deck,” she says. “My position has continued to grow and I’ve taken on additional responsibilities over the years. I currently oversee all production, marketing and sponsorships.”

As the fair grew, co-founder Chris Byrne decided he needed more help. So he created a director position that would oversee the fair’s execution. The new role will concentrate heavily on those relationships with exhibitors, a role Cornell has been fine tuning since her days as an intern. For the last four years, Cornell has traveled to other fairs to take the temperature of what is happening nationally and internationally and cites the Dallas Art Fair as an event open to all.

“The biggest thing that differentiates Dallas from other fairs is our linear programming. We strive to create a schedule of events that everyone is able to attend.”

Cornell's new role also includes maintaining relationships with preview gala beneficiaries such as the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas Contemporary and sponsors, to create a dynamic schedule of events for next spring.

Cornell says Dallas has become a global destination for both art collectors and gallerists. This fair in April was the largest and best attended to date. Mayor Mike Rawlings and the Dallas Museum of Art’s Gavin Delahunty also introduced the acquisition program, a $50,000 fund to acquire works from the fair for the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection that strengthens the relationship between the fair and Dallas. 

“[The DMA’s Hoffman Family senior curator of contemporary art] Gavin Delahunty and [developer] John Sughrue were instrumental in launching this program. We’re involved with the Nasher Sculpture Center in creating outreach events throughout the year to engage new collectors. We are working with NorthPark Center this year and will be organizing monthly tours of their art collection led by local artists and curators. We also have tremendous support from Dallas Contemporary. They have great relationships with the schools that allow us to bring hundreds of students to the fair.”

Cornell said they recently created a formal advisory committee with members drawn from local institutions, including the Nasher, Dallas Contemporary, Goss-Michael Foundation and the Power Station to create programming for the Dallas Art Fair that engages the community and Dallas artists.

In the past six years the Dallas Art Fair has separated itself from other fairs across the country with inclusive initiatives such as student Sunday and professionals day, which allow visitors to attend for free. For next year, NorthPark Center has also come on board as an official sponsor, and Cornell said exhibitors will represent Antwerp, Mexico City, Brussels, London, Dubai, Milan, Zurich, Vienna and more.

The former Dallas Art Fair intern turned director is proof that patience pays off, and the fair will benefit from having someone who has experienced its progress from the beginning and from every vantage point. “It feels great,” Cornell says. “It has been a very rewarding experience to be involved with the fair on every level. I love the fair and what it does for the city of Dallas.”

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.