Published on June 30th, 2012 | by RLn Staff0
Crafted–This is Not a Swap-Meet
Aside from the expiration date of the delirium of USS Iowa fever, which has its grand opening on the July 7, there’s an equally important date fast approaching: The grand opening of Crafted — potentially the largest and most significant showcase for handmade crafts in Southern California.
This isn’t a venue for cheap knockoffs and mass produced trinkets with “Made in (fill in the blank)” stickers slapped on them. We’re talking about handmade crafted objects made in the United States that are utilitarian in nature while embodying the crafter’s inspiration. These kinds of crafted works range from wearable art to furniture, and from soap to desserts made from liquor.
In the past, the Artwalk has flirted with the idea of incorporating a crafted dimension to the First Thursday event, only to watch it devolve into something closer to a swap-meet. In downtown San Pedro, where division is as common as liver spots when it comes to the direction of the arts district, there is uncommon unity in the belief that hordes of imported trinket peddlers do not fit the vision of a destination town.
Once fully established, Crafted is expected to serve as an incubator space for up to 500 micro-businesses and drawing up to 500,000 visitors a year. This is project number two for the three-person development team, Wayne Blank, Howard Robinson and Alison Zeno in Santa Monica. Since opening in 1997, Bergamot Station has become a destination point in the art world for both collectors and artists, drawing 600,000 visitors annually.
Zeno has been the face of Crafted from the start, pitching the idea to the Port as well as to the community. With gravitas garnered from Bergamot Station’s success, she has been able to inspire a degree of confidence and comfort in the Harbor Area.
Random Lengths News caught up with Zeno at FinDings Art Center during First Thursday’s Artwalk this month and picked her brain about the vision of Crafted. She had just fought through the 6 o’clock traffic after an already long day to pass out handbills for the Crafted grand opening, and then touch bases with various community members amidst the throngs of people there for the Artwalk.
So far, there are more than 70 crafted business listed as sponsors that will have booths at the super marketplace for crafts. By opening day, Zeno expects to have close to 100 crafted artists locked in and ready go.
Though Crafted is a juried exhibition space, there’s enough flexibility to allow for the diversity that is exhibited by its crafted sponsors, like K.C. Sears who describes her boutique, Make Shop Live, as eco-chic meets funky vintage– a community that supports a lifestyle that embraces process over product, by making wearable and furnishing goods from “up-cycled” materials.
Lindsay Zuelich’s Wood on the Brain, a Crafted vendor that crafts wearable and home décor objects from wood.
Then there are the food related vendors such as the Cake Bar, which bakes any imaginable pastry with its main ingredient being liquor or Hepp’s Salt Co., which has many variety of cooking salts.
Zeno comes from a design background as does everyone on her team and has been in the arts industry for more than 30 years. She explained that her team avoided the traditional jury process of selection, noting bias amongst different disciplines of crafts.
“Everybody has such a distinct point view of their own and then applying that to their peers,” Zeno explained. “And, what we wanted to do was stress a broad definition of craft… So I couldn’t get a committee of people who represented everything from skateboard art to fiber art.
“At the end of the day, what we’re trying to create here is not a juried art affair with prizes, we’re trying to bring together a quality group of visual artists who have an opportunity to make a living making the things they love and they have to have a consumer appeal to do it.”
The concept of raising in importance process to the level of substance is a common refrain amongst Zeno and the craft community. One of the first crafting organizations to sign on to Crafted was FinDings Art Center which sells handcrafted stationery goods, clothing, aprons and handbags made from recycled or reused materials. The makers of these goods are the women who are a part of FinDing’s family literacy program.
“We applied for Crafted and of course they fell in love with our concept and they offered us first contract,” Annette Cicketic, founder of FinDings said. “So we are the first contracted in Crafted to have a booth. And they loved the concept of women and the nonprofit, and community involvement.”
Cicketic explained that the art center really began with the desire to promote family literacy and the recognition early on that with a holistic approach, family literacy could be the catalyst that mitigate some of the more destructive forces affecting low-income immigrant families. For Cicketic, that meant carving out a place for where mothers can have a bit of peace and quiet.
“The result was something like a quilting bee sort of an environment,” Cicketic explained. This space turned out to be a classroom in 223 Street Elementary School in Harbor Gateway, she noticed that most of the women had hidden talents that they took for granted like embroidery, knitting, crocheting and sewing.
Before long, immigrant women from around the world were sharing their native knowledge of embroidery, sewing, crocheting while teaching each other English with assistance from Cicketic, who is a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher.
This is what Zeno encountered when she met Cicketic and was introduced to finDings:
“I came down here and talked to Annette and learned about her passion for family literacy, and helping people finding gainful employment and it resonated with the work that we’re doing,” Zeno explained. “You can see it in the quality of work that they’re doing. It’s an excellent example of what we keep saying, ‘It’s about high quality, not high end.’
“It doesn’t matter that some pieces sell for $2.50. It’s not about $1,000 sweatshirts. Everybody should have the opportunity to appreciate their own art. You should be able touch art everyday. It should be a piece of your house. You should be able to find out the story of the object you bought. And I can’t think of a better story than this one [of finDings].”
Zeno, reflecting on potential and the future of said of the artisans leasing with Crafted, “Here’s a group that can help each other learn from experience rather than failure. But at the same time everybody takes responsibility for their business.”
In Zeno’s way of looking at things, no one is coming to the table saying, “I don’t know how to do this, can someone do it for me.”
To Zeno, Crafted is a forum where artisans come to the table and say, “I don’t know how to do this, can somebody give me the benefit of their experience so that I can go sell this.”
Zeno–like all those connected to Crafted–believes passionately that an one should be able to make a living from making things they love, despite a rough economy. She noted historically that people turn to crafting in such economic times to supplement their incomes.
“They’re finding that they don’t have to fit into someone else’s mold,” Zeno explained. “They can have an entrepreneurial spirit and there’s a venue that’s now available to them that is somewhere between their dining room table and a retail storefront on Main Street.
“We hope to grow people up and out of Crafted. The rents are affordable enough to take that leap of faith.”
Though it’s a cliché, Crafted was born out of the idea that if you build it, they will come. There’s a lot of things that will come out of this, Zeno explained. With the presence of gourmet food trucks and live music, Crafted will take on a festival atmosphere without turning into a carnival, allowing it to become a sophisticated event destination.
Zeno stresses that there are also other business opportunities for the folks who plant themselves at Crafted, noting that as they grow, they could grow the wholesale side of their business or form partnerships with people doing like-minded things.
“It shouldn’t be viewed through the, ‘I make, I sell.’ lens,” Zeno explained. “It should be, ‘I make, I sell, I expose myself to the world and see what happens.’”
And that’s the view many observers with hopeful aspirations for the Waterfront are taking.
It opened June 29. Crafted will be open from Fridays through Sundays with all sorts of crafts and fun to get into. Visit Crafted’s website for more info.