It’s amazing that I know far more artists and crafters with successful microbrands or intentions of starting one than those who are purely hobbyists. I, for one, so enjoy the process of constructing an identity for my creative outlets. They can define one more than the car you drive, the movies like, or the body you’re in. Many of us love it so much that we forgo financial gain so that more people can afford to own a piece of it. Suddenly the world is thrown into an economic crisis, and I’m seeing varied reactions around the community ranging from flippance to great concern.
Where do we go from here?
I can only speak from personal experience, but I’ve watched Strange Folk take on a life of it’s own. In only it’s third year, it’s already one of the most attended festivals in the area, even at a fraction of the budget of other annual events. Indie craft is prevailing in an ordinary suburb of the country’s 16th largest city which happens to be equidistant between the metropolis of Chicago and the buckle of the bible belt. Our shining city is not on a hill, but across a river in another state. O’Fallon, IL is a very close distance to St. Louis, MO (12 miles by interstate to downtown), but many residents refer to it instead as,”all the way over there”, unless the Cardinals are in a pennant race. It is both a economic and geographic melting pot of the United States, where Wal-mart now reigns king, and much that was farmland 20 years ago has been replaced by strip malls or subdivisions.
I ‘ve had the unique opportunity to grow up with “small town values” only minutes from both the tranquility of country living and the buzzing activity of a city. What is so desirable about a society that lacks the cultural enrichment and community gravitas of urban centers as well as the sensible resourcefulness and simple pleasures of rural traditions? Maybe we were just fooled into thinking materialism could give us the best of both worlds without concerning ourselves with process, people, or environmental effects behind or ahead of what we buy. It’s especially easy to turn the other cheek when you are being emotionally manipulated by relentless advertising and offered imaginary money around every corner. In the years this perpetuated, “country craft” had one last hurrah as a popular art form, but lost it’s luster; becoming more about reproducing aesthetic, and less about workmanship.
Indie craft had to pick up where country craft left off, inheriting an audience with an appetite for consumption and obsession with bargains. The handmade movement was incubated in urban centers, where some sense of the value in art remained. The really interesting result is a subculture dependent on rural traditions, yet resistance across the board to reach out towards their native terrain. The internet creates accessibility, but feet on the ground is by far the best way to reach a detached population, and they are ready for something different…all ages and walks of life. If you think your wares only appeal to 20-something hipsters, then I’ve got a grandmother who’s looking to buy a skull and cross bones appliqued pot holder from you.
To my surprise, our city hall embraced the indie craft concept from the get-go. Many small town art committees are strapped for cash and very open to new ideas. Indie craft themes are clever and refreshing. I presented Strange Folk with an open-mind and focus on being eclectic. O’Fallon provides the location, office and grounds staff. I run press releases through their PR system, and every household (all 18,000 of them) receives a flyer about it in their water bill. I coordinate efforts on a voluntary basis, but never have to put up my own money to get things done while waiting for sponsor and vendor fees to be collected.
As I continue my series, “The Sort-of Sustainable Craft Show”, this week, I hope some of you will take some ideas and run in this direction with them. At this point, indie craft and the internet are so intertwined that I doubt any concerted effort to gather local makers would fall short. The level of support from individual communities may vary, but it’s already been done in a tough of environment: a politically conservative middle class town where franchises continue to erode small business.
People are going to be holding on tight to their pocket books for awhile, but they are also looking for affordable distractions and contemplating things more meaningful than money. It’s the perfect time to arouse interest in what indie craft stands for to the broader population.
Photo 1: A resident purchases one of Amy Rose’s utterly cute handmade trinkets at Strange Folk.
Photo 2: Patrons line up for a free reusable shopping tote filled with crafty goodies including Sublime Stitching patterns, Craft: magazines and fat quarters from Crafty Planet. Attendees had to present a craft vendor purchase to recieve the tote, which had everyone making a run on the nearest booth at 10 a.m. Jodi and Deor, volunteers from the arts commission working at the info booth, never heard of indie crafting before Strange Folk. Now they are enthusiastic participants in helping to promote the concept to our community.