Five, maybe six years ago around Alaska, there was one main season for art fairs: winter.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, schools, cultural centers and houses of worship would turn into tinsel-bedecked markets. A stroll through their hallways, lobbies, lunchrooms and gyms revealed tables full of handmade jewelry and baby clothing interspersed with vendors selling locally made hot sauce and candied nuts.
Things have changed.
On a recent summer Sunday, there were at least four full-on craft fairs and pop-ups at breweries and what otherwise would have been run-of-the-mill parking lots around Anchorage. The day was no outlier.
A good thing since there’s definitely no shortage of Alaskan artists, crafters and makers hammering out, stringing or stitching wares.
The pops in markets and makers come courtesy of an odd pair of influences: the Makers Markets launched by Anchorage-based Risha Toci of Little Fish Workshop and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michaela Teater, who makes housewares under her Alaska Concrete Collective brand, got her start at the Muldoon Farmers Market. But signing on to sell at Toci’s Makers Markets really got her business going.
“And after that, it was just like the snowball started,” Teater said. “Risha really changed things. (Anchorage was) just at a place where we were kind of stagnant. It was the same markets. It was the same makers. And there was no one who was feeling inspired.”
Toci launched her jewelry business, Little Fish Workshop, in 2016. She started selling her jewelry on Etsy, a massive online craft market, and at Anchorage’s Dos Manos Gallery.
“Then I wanted to grow and get my business name out there because I was small beans at that point,” she said. “No one knew who I was.”
Toci started organizing small pop-ups at breweries around Anchorage. “
I was just reaching out to everyone and anyone I knew that would host us makers. Then I would invite just a few artists who I really wanted to meet and whose work I adored,” she said.
Inspired by a Renegade Craft event she went to in Oregon in 2010, Toci launched the first Makers Market in October 2017 in an empty shop downtown. “My goal was to create a curated market with high-quality work from local artisans with a modern feel,” said Toci.
While the markets ground to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Toci started up again as soon as possible. This year she’s running five markets at Alaska Pacific University’s Atwood Center, though she plans to scale back to three or four in the future to give herself more time to focus more on her own products.
Though the increase in markets is good news for shoppers, there’s a worry that the scene could be approaching saturation.
“I feel like we’re at the tipping point. We’re going to start to oversaturate and then people just aren’t going to come out to that one special event because they could just hit one the next weekend,” said Anchorage-based Annie Ciszak of Annie’s Arts and Follies.
A longtime maker, Ciszak used to own Bella, a gift shop in Midtown. She closed the shop four years ago to focus on her jewelry business.
She also runs two maker fairs annually in her yard. The most recent “Yart Sale” featured artists including repurposed textile designer Lilith Moon, crocheter Kayo Bogdan of Room With Shrooms, and weaver Farrah Weinert of Rock Pile Designs.
Selection and a market-runner’s taste are threads that run deep through some of the new crop of markets and pop-ups at businesses like Green Connection, an Anchorage plant shop. Makers can’t sign on just because they can afford to rent a space.
That exclusivity can be a barrier to up-and-coming artists. That’s one of the reasons Teater partnered with Anchorage VegFest founder Zaneta Stetsunova to launch the Sunday Fresh Market at O’Malley. Held in the same parking lot that’s home to the South Anchorage Farmers Market on Saturdays, the Fresh Market is equal parts farmers market, food festival and craft fair. Teater wants to put the craft spaces to use to help new-to-selling artists grow their businesses.
“I wanted to include makers who there wasn’t always access for them,” Teater said. “Markets can be really expensive.”
The ongoing plan is to have a weekly crop of three makers who are newer to the market scene. She also wants to focus on bringing more diversity to South Anchorage markets.
As for the pandemic, it didn’t escape anybody’s notice that, while spending time at home, people started learning new hobbies (and it wasn’t all learning how to bake sourdough bread). Some of those hobbies turned into side hustles or, with some Great Resignation types among them, full-time businesses.
And adults aren’t the only makers getting into the business of selling their handmade items. Kids are getting inspired to become artist entrepreneurs too. With the help of some established artists before them, they’ll even get a space to meet the public. Toci is launching a Mini Makers Market where kids ages 6-17 can sell handmade goods, and the Sunday Fresh Market recently started adding space for crafty kids into its weekly mix.
Interested in Alaska Crafts? Here are some places to find them over the next six weeks
Sunday Fresh Market
Sundays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. through Sept. 10
11111 O’Malley Centre Dr.
ANC Market Social
Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. through Sept. 3
E St. between 5th and 6th
2023 Make It Alaskan Market
Sept. 29-Oct. 1
Egan Civic & Convention Center, 555 W 5th Ave.
Alaska State Fair
Aug. 18-Sept. 24
Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer
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