Ape, a screen printer coming to the 7th annual Crafty Mart; photo by Daniel Lozada.

Facing lost income, artists scramble to take shows online

by Derek Kreider

If you’re an artist that’s been affected by the COVID-19 closures, a list of resources can be found here.

If you’re interested in helping a struggling artist, here’s a site that will distribute funds evenly through a database of freelancers.

Full Disclosure: I’m close personal friends with most of the people mentioned here

Ceramicists, painters, printmakers and other visual artists are dependent on in-person markets for much of their livelihoods. But as spaces for exhibitions, concerts, and markets close, the artists who enrich our lives on a regular basis need our support in new ways.

“The big problem right now is the uncertainty factor: we don’t know when the gathering bans will be lifted or loosened, so shows scheduled in the next two months have almost all canceled or made plans to postpone,” says Shannon Okey, the showrunner of Cleveland Bazaar.

That’s why her organization has teamed up with the leadership of other craft markets to create the Rustbelt Creative Coalition, a group of show organizers “working to bring together resources and form a cooperative task force to tackle problems — everything from keeping the problems artists and small business owners are having in the media, to developing virtual shopping opportunities, new funding possibilities, [and] plain old support mechanisms,” says Shannon. 

The coalition includes organizers from the Youngstown Flea, Wildroots Modern Market, Crafty Mart, Cleveland Bazaar, Mayday Underground (Rochester, N.Y.), Handmade Toledo, Wildflowers Armory (a multi-vendor market in Syracuse, N.Y.), 720 Market, Downtown Canton Flea, and the I Made It! Market (Pittsburgh).

Starting in spring and continuing through Christmas, the craft show season can be a lucrative time for artists.

Marissa McClellan, the Executive Director at Crafty Mart, hopes that the cooperative can create an online alternative to in-person markets during the outbreak. 

“We’re hoping we can put something together like a really big virtual market, with really great pictures and really easy access for people,” Marissa said. 

Taking any of these steps will be helpful to the artists that we enjoy and who so often shine a light into our lives during our darkest days. Their work is as much a business as any other means of traditional employment. These are legitimate jobs, serving a legitimate need in the population. 

As craft and maker show organizers search for digital substitutes, I reached out to a number of makers from different disciplines and asked how best to support the arts in the age of social distancing. Each one gave slightly different answers based on what their preferred medium is, but there was one common thread among all of them: social media engagement. 

“Right now myself and other artists I have spoken to are focused on our metrics. If we can increase our engagement, our follower counts and interactions, we can organically spread our reach so that when the world starts turning again we will be seen and ready,” says Alexander Draven, owner of the ExCB, a business dedicated to handcrafted jewelry, watches and art. 

Instagram’s March Meet the Maker challenge is an example of the kind of engagement Alexander is talking about. For the month of March, artists are encouraged to respond to a broad daily prompt (“Reducing waste” or “Technique/Skills”) with behind-the-scenes details of their craft. 

For appointment-based artists, it’s important to let them know that they still have customers.

“The best thing people can do for their tattooer and beauty salon-working friends is book appointments ahead so they know they have work to come back to,” says J.D. Attenborough, a tattoo artist at Odd Fellows Tattoo in Akron.

While many physical point-of-sale locations are closed, artists do still have their work available to buy.

”Most artists like me tend to sell a lot of their artwork on Instagram, or will have links on their profile to direct people to their online stores,” says Yami Rotten, a tattoo artist at Black Sheep Tattoo in Kent. 

Michelle Zeit, esthetician and makeup artist at VIVO Beauty Bar, summed up the situation: “Big box stores will survive this… small businesses need support now more than ever. Our entire livelihood depends on people walking in our doors.”

Photo: Daniel Lozada