The year is 1977. The Post-It Note has been invented, Jimmy Carter has been sworn in as the 39th president of the United States, and the first Star Wars movie has just hit theatres. However, 1977 wasn’t just a big year for stationery, politics and cinema; it was also the year ICEFAT was founded and the date of our very first Convention. From that first conference to our imminent 46th Convention in Athens, our mission has always been to bolster the connectivity between our membership, discuss the latest industry developments and share learnings from the past year.

Including the two Coronavirus-impacted virtual occasions in 2020 and 2021, there have been 45 Conventions for our entire membership. This year, we are incredibly excited to gather in person once more. In this post we want to show why it’s important to come together as an organisation, and how our Convention adds value to our membership.

The Reason We’re Here

We believe that fine art shipping works best when human links in the global fine art logistics chain are in perfect step. Our annual Conventions provide the perfect vehicle to achieve that.

For the fourteenth consecutive year, our Convention is organised by Judith Uijtewaal, our Secretary General. “Our membership is ready to meet in person again,” says Uijtewaal, adding that, “we’re a very friendly industry – the Convention provides the chance for members to really connect with one another.” This is reflected by the numbers attending the Athens Convention: over 200 delegates representing almost the entirety of our 79-strong membership, save for some members in countries still under covid travel restrictions. Attendees will include the six new agents who have joined since our last physical Convention: Armstrong Fine Art Services (Canada), Crozier Switzerland, Crozier USA, GWC (Qatar), HIZKIA (Netherlands), and Museum Complex (Hungary). One third of the entire delegation list this year are from new members and first time attendees of existing member companies, showing the growth of the new generation in our organisation.

Melissa Osterwind, President of SRI Fine Art Services and an ICEFAT Steering Committee member, also notes the “esprit de corps” of a Convention, highlighting the importance the event always places on “refreshing conversations with colleagues and getting back to business with agents that we work alongside around the world.”

Curating The Athens Convention’s Content

Three decades since the last Convention took place in Athens in 1991, the industry has evolved to consider topics such as the latest industry personnel issues and the climate emergency. With our presence in six continents, Osterwind says it is vital that, “ICEFAT’s global membership is represented in the panels that take place across the four-day event, and that the topics discussed are relevant whether the agent is from Singapore or Peru”.

This year, the key priorities for the event will look at the progress of the first ICEFAT Standards audits; skilled technician recruitment and retention; cementing global relationships with new 1:1 meetings between different companies; and interrogating the sustainability initiatives our Green Committee promotes.

We welcome expertise from outside our organisation to strengthen our knowledge and bring new insights to our members.  External speakers will contribute to the Convention and Thijs Deweerdt, a Senior Manager at EY Consulting, will speak on his company’s role in auditing our members against the ICEFAT Standards that we have developed and now introduced. The keynote speech will be delivered by commercial litigator Wendy J. Lindstrom, who will discuss art fraud and how fine art shippers can avoid being affected by bad actors. Osterwind has flagged this topic as increasingly important for fine art shippers, as all operators, “must be vigilant in looking for the signs and protecting against art fraudsters attempting to utilise the services of art logistics providers.”

The 1:1 member meetings are a new feature this year, designed to strengthen the bridges between regions that ICEFAT’s membership enables. “The key purpose with these meetings is networking, but we also expect agents to discuss upcoming projects, past business practices and industry backgrounds,” says Uijtewaal, adding “one European agent has already organised seven meetings with very international partners to enable them to further their connectivity.”

A Social Convention

Cultural and recreational events are also taking place during the Convention and, “organising a great social occasion alongside the business event is our signature,” says Uijtewaal. Golf, tennis, and yoga will all be on offer for attendees, and Osterwind sees this as a “vehicle for conversation and shared liaison.” A visit to the Acropolis Museum will also take place, ending with a party in the centre of Athens. For Osterwind, who has attended and presented at numerous past Conventions, “these are where some of the fondest memories are made.”

Convention Conclusions

“This is one of the most collegial group of competitors you have ever met,” says Osterwind. Many agents regularly work closely together, and the Convention offers the opportunity to leave the Zoom calls behind and reconnect with familiar names. “We want members who have been attending for 30 years and first timers alike to come away from the Athens Convention in the knowledge that ICEFAT is stronger than ever, that there are great working relationships between agents, and all have a passion for their work,” summarises Uijtewaal. The Convention exists to further our industry and re-establish current connections while growing new ones.