Today I joined my friend Janelle Gramling of Janelle Gramling Designs at Highland Community School to talk to a group of middle schoolers about their up and coming craft fair on November 22nd. We were there to talk about our personal businesses-- How we make things and then how we sell them. We discussed pop-up marketplaces as a viable source of income for people. We told them about the craft scene here in Milwaukee. I told them about events I organize to help these businesses grow and to help this community become stronger. Mostly though we tried to explain that they have power when they buy something. They have the choice of buying something from someone they believe in and want to support or they can buy things with very little thought put into it. You put your money where you want to see growth. And then we told them about our little community of makers that is growing and has been growing since we found it. We told them that we were there to continue to help strengthen this community. And then we told them they could do it too. If what they liked to do was make things, we told them their dream jobs were at their fingertips. We watched their eyes light up. We watched some of them be incredibly bored. It was pretty cool.
I have been thinking about making flags for a couple years now and I finally got it together and made some! Here are the four I made. I am sorry to say they are all sold, but there are plans to make more. If you want one, I posted these four styles in my shop to be made to order. The link is to the left!
Eyeball patches end up a lot of places and sometimes after they are sent off in the world I get a picture of exactly where they are sewn to-- this time it's a baby butt! YES!
I had the opportunity this weekend to work with the organizers of Bay View Gallery Night to organize the art + craft fair at Bay View Colectivo. Although the event has grown every year and now stretches from past Lincoln to further south than Fernwood, the Colectivo lot remains the highest concentration of artists in the whole event. The lot was comprised of 34 art + craft vendors, 5 murals that were unveiled and art making by the From Here to Her Art Collective. Because the amount of people coming to check it out, we ended up shutting down over an hour after we were scheduled to and even then people were still there to try to shop the boxes that were getting ready to be loaded out. It was unbelievably successful. My hat is off to Jeff Redmon and Chuck Watson for creating this event and growing it to a point where the whole neighborhood is erupting in art and people who want to look at it.
You can't see it in this picture, but that's a review I wrote on Jennifer Halvorson in Glass Quarterly. I am very pleased with the article and I encourage anyone interested in glass to go grab a copy. I would link to the article, but they don't upload reviews for content on their website yet.. so.. you'll just have to seek it out or come borrow my copy.
I had the pleasure of presenting embroidery work by 13 ladies and myself in a show at Honeypie Cafe for Bay View Gallery Night. The show was called We Make Things by Hand and it was up for one day only and that day was yesterday. It was a departure from my usual curating of art + craft fairs. Whenever I invite new experiences, I encounter new challenges as well. With this event however, everything just kept falling wonderfully into place. Putting this show together was basically creating a dream list of artists that I wanted to work with. I had only a few turn down the invitation, but was still extremely excited about the artists who accepted. Last week, having each piece delivered to me by each of the artists was like having a birthday every day. I had the chance to receive each piece, hear directly from the artist about her experience and then have it in my possession to look at and show off to the next artist who dropped off work.
I am so proud of everyone who participated. I am extremely impressed by everyone's talents and am flattered that so many people would dedicate many hours to create a piece for this show that would only be around for one night. I'll be updating this blog post in the near future with images of each piece, just in case you missed the show. And hopefully I'll have a chance to create something like this again soon.
I had my first show in an actual gallery space this past Friday and I couldn't have been more excited. It was at Hotpop Gallery in Milwaukee, which meant I went about my business all day wrangling children and then I dusted everyone off and dragged them all to the Third Ward to see. Here's a picture of my family right after we all got to go into the space and see my work.
It was fun for my husband and I to take the children to something a little out of the ordinary. And it was nice to have these little eyes looking up at something they had seen me making for the past couple weeks. My art practice has a lot to do with fitting in time around the house and so I would be stitching while watching movies with the kids or sitting at the table while Abe played with Legos and Vivian napped. So they had seen me working on them constantly. They both recognized the work right away and we all stood there and stared at them. They both started chattering about what they thought and Abe told me he was proud of me. It was a magical moment to be given support like that when I am used to being the supporter.
They acted very interested for an appropriate amount of time before they realized that there was a serious amount of designer toys on the other side of the gallery space. And then they went to browse.
It wasn't long before my husband started the countdown to leave and my friend Faythe snapped this shot as I was walking them all to the car.
It was a nice night. I love having these two little goofballs.
I'll be posting about the work itself in the next week or so-- I can't believe I forgot to take photos of the finished work before the show went up. But it was a little bit of a crazy day, so I'll do it soon.
I am now entering into my fifth year of planning marketplace events that are often called craft fairs. I am in my tenth year in participating in them. When I first started out trying to sell things I had made, there wasn't an Etsy, there wasn't a Facebook-- I remember quite vividly that I didn't even have access to the internet unless I was on campus. And I liked it that way. Now, although I fantasize about days where I am unconnected from the internet and my "days off" from freelancing are indicated by not logging onto my computer -- I need it. I like the connection, I like the immediacy, I like the bubble it creates where I know what my 'friends' are up to, but I don't have to actually call all 1,200 of them to find out.
This connection and consequently the disconnect that I just mentioned has changed a lot in terms of commerce for people like me who make things with their hands and try to sell them. The internet has changed it. The connection means that I know quilters from all over the world. Not by their faces, but by their Instagram handles. The disconnect is that unless I post directly to my Facebook account (where my 'friends' are generally people I have known from real life at some point) or omg, call someone and tell them about what I am making, people that surround me in daily life - my neighbors, moms on the playground, the kid that makes my coffee - they actually have no idea what I do all day.
This is something that I have thought a lot about. First of all, I know personally that I need to be more self promoting. When someone asks me what I have been up to, the general answer of "Nothing." needs to stop coming out of my mouth. Secondly, and more importantly I wonder what this dynamic has actually done to my community and I have come up with the thought that my community is not better for it.
But I am getting a little ahead of myself.
When I first started vending at markets, I was in college and I had no money. I was invited to make some clothes for a wearable art collective called Fasten. Fasten was run by a few ladies who offered to sell things you made for a very low consignment rate (15% - crazy!) and their goal was to #1: have enough stuff to fill a 10x10 tent. #2: be able to make a little extra money by making things themselves and selling them. #3: encourage people to make stuff. What actually resulted was much more. I became very involved in Fasten and ended up co-directing it until I left for grad school in New York. Now looking back on this experience I value it for much more than a fun hang and a reason to make things, I look as it as my first community building experience. We made the rules, we created the structure and we didn't turn people away. People who were attracted to what we did participated and those people are still the people I depend on when I am creating - an event, an article or an object. Those are my people.
Five year ago this summer was the moment two ladies from Fasten and another BFF we picked up along the way and I wanted to make an event for people like us to vend at. There was already a big craft fair in town called Art vs. Craft that was run by one of my besties and it was important to distinguish the difference between the two. This event was going to be for makers of all sorts, that were local to Milwaukee and our goal was to create a brick and mortar space that would attract emerging artists and hobby crafters.
I can hear your groans from here!
Hobby crafters! Ugh! Emerging artists! Ugh!
It's true! We all individually knew of a lot of people who had never been accepted to Art vs. Craft and wanted the opportunity to vend. What was missing from their applications? A lot. First, established craft fairs looked for websites, professional looking photographs of goods, a well-styled booth set up. If you like to make stuff, but have a day job you probably don't have any of these things. But what if you make cool shit and you want to participate in a creative community? Well, then you apply to Hover Craft. And although we specialize in working with hobby crafters and emerging artists, titles that make a lot of aficionados cringe, the spectrum of goods a shopper found at one of these was wide. The makers we found made all sorts of stuff that was beautiful and high quality, but it was nothing shoppers had seen at other craft fairs or shops in the area or even in online shops. And the vendors we worked with were incredibly enthusiastic and their enthusiasm came from being able to participate.
Looking back on the creation of Hover Craft, I don't think any of us would have predicted that we would be now entering our fifth year. But we are and every year we can boast that it has grown in both quality, number of vendors and number of shoppers.
What did Hover Craft create?
Well, it created encouragement and possibility. Hover Craft acted as an incubator for Art vs. Craft where vendors at our event would move onto the premiere Milwaukee art and craft shopping destination of the Christmas season. Were we mad that our vendors would get swooped up? No. Our goal was to work with different makers every year and it helped turn over vendors we didn't ever want to turn away. And it worked really well.
After doing Hover Craft for a couple years, I started getting asked to coordinate craft events elsewhere. I met more people and I got to work with some truly enthusiastic vendors that I now recognize as small business owners. I started seeing that there was a need for more vending opportunities and so last year I made another market called Maker Market. Maker Market is the first Sunday of each month May - September in the parking lot of the Bay View Colectivo. And last year I also started collecting email addresses for a newsletter for people who are interested in vending opportunities in the Milwaukee area.
The very obvious goal to creating Maker Market was to create a regular venue for people to sell their work. But there are other goals as well - What happens to our creative community if it is nurtured by giving people the opportunity to create their own small + low-risk creative business? What happens to our creative community if many people are invited to participate? What happens if this all happens face to face? What networks result and to what end? It is these questions that I am excited about exploring as this season of Maker Market goes on and as the years of planning these types of events begin to pile up.
I recognize that I have a significant opportunity because of the network I have created over the years to advocate for a stronger creative community right here in my city and I am going to start exploring that on my blog. This exploration has already started, but it will continue with this book I just got in the mail - The Creative Community Builder's Handbook by Tom Borrup. I'll be making semi-regular blog posts about its contents -- but if anyone has any recommendations of more books to read I would love to hear of them. Either leave them for me in the comment section below, or email them to me directly at email@example.com.