A Harmonious Vibe: ICEFAT does Washington D.C.!

The first Apple computer. Star Wars: A New Hope. The Clash’s debut album.

1977 was an important year for many reasons. And in the world of fine art shipping, it was perhaps most importantly the year of the inaugural ICEFAT convention, held in Amsterdam. The event, an opportunity for ICEFAT’s global membership to meet all in one place, has taken place annually ever since. For 2019, Washington D. C. was chosen to host the entire membership of ICEFAT as they discussed developments, regulations and practices in the industry.

“We want to create a connection and level of trust that can never be replaced by phone, email, video chats or webinars,” says Jonathan Schwartz, Steering Committee (SC) chair of USA-based shipper Atelier 4. For an industry that depends so crucially on forging close, often cross-continental relationships, the ICEFAT conventions are an important date in all members’ calendars. Ida Ng, SC member of Singapore-based Helu-Trans, believes that “trust is the foundation of any business dealing.” Indeed, the face-to-face contact is a vital part of these annual conferences and for building connections among other shippers co-operating globally.

“It’s great to meet new members and learn more about them,” says John McCollum, SC member of US-based SRI Fine Art Services, “when we meet in person we accomplish a lot more”. New members are welcomed every year, encouraging the exchange of best practices in the industry and, as Schwartz importantly adds, ‘new ideas… the life blood which ensures our future survival’. New members being accepted each year shows that the industry best practices that ICEFAT espouses are being accepted more broadly. “It shows the industry is growing up, and that’s exciting,” says Lapo Sergi, SC member of Italy-based agent Apice. Brazilian SC member Renata Vinhas of FINK Mobility adds that it ICEFAT is now seen as a bellwether for fine art shipping: “every year several worldwide agents apply to be members. It means ICEFAT is being recognised in the industry”. As ICEFAT’s membership matures and expands to encompass new regions and markets, so the quality of fine art shipping in these areas increases too.

This year we codified our fine art shipping standards for membership for the very first time, signed by all of our agents. The genesis of the standards project came six years ago with a suggestion from SC member Dimitris Katsadakis from Orphee Beinoglou Greece, who first put forward the idea. Katsadakis recalls that “it has taken many changes and actions to become reality in the 2019 Convention”, and Schwartz agrees, saying it took “several hard years of drafting and adopting” and the 2019 Convention finally saw full agreement from all members. Now that we have reached this point, we can build and maintain fine art shipping standards even more effectively around the world.

Those standards are maintained by a constant pooling of information and resources, even between competitive enterprises offering a similar service. One of the highlights of the convention saw three representatives from different Swiss agents giving a talk on the subject of ‘co-opetition’. It certainly impressed the audience, with Ida Ng of Helu-Trans calling it a “game-changer.” Renata Vinhas of FINK enjoyed the talk, particularly as her company already has undertaken co-opetition practices and experienced the benefits. “In the past we have joined forces with a competitor to assist in big sporting events, with a time of birth and death of the partnership”, says Vinhas, “this cooperation allows us to operate on another level successfully”.

Staying well-informed on the art market is key to what we do, so we invited Sarah Douglas, editor-in-chief of ARTNews to give an address to the conference. McCollum valued the talk, noting that the industry’s rapid growth may be “coming at a cost” – something which fine art shippers should be prepared for. As Schwartz put it, Douglas’ lecture aided our “preparations for market downturns and paradigm shifts.” As a united body, we are better able to weather any market or industry developments that could occur in the years ahead.

Beyond the speeches, workshops, and meetings, one of our top priorities with the ICEFAT Convention is for all of our agents to get to know each other better, building that trust and fellowship to allow us all to cooperate even when thousands of miles apart. Schwartz is clear that “the camaraderie at our conventions has been an essential tool for this.” The informal meetings we hold between the more serious ones are an essential glue to welcome our first time attendees and newer members into the club.

The Convention was again a triumph this year, with, as Schwartz puts it, “a harmonious vibe all round.” We’re already looking forward to the next installment in 2020 in Athens, Greece!