Sunday, October 3, 2010

Arts Market a hub for local arts & crafts

The Arts Market takes place at the end of the streetcar line.
            The moon was high in the sky and car headlights still glowing, but Michelle Levine, manager of the Arts Market of New Orleans, had been at Palmer Park since dawn, setting up tables, garbage cans and portable toilets. By 7 a.m., a dozen tents were already up and artists hauling their wares to assigned locations. Metal poles clanked as they hoisted 10-by-10-ft. tents off the grass, wet with morning dew.
            By the 10 a.m. start, 128 vendors, some traveling hundreds of miles, had their booths set up along sidewalks that crisscross the rectangular park. They were exhibiting original, handmade, affordable art, including jewelry, photography, paintings, ceramics, clothing, soap, candles and home accessories at the Arts Market, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month.
            A stage at the center of the park promoted entertainment by The Pfister Sisters at 1 p.m. and The Charmaine Neville Band at 2:30 p.m. Off to one side, food vendors, children’s craft activities and nonprofits were on hand for Community Appreciation Day.
            Linda Berman, who calls her business Drunk Monkey Studio, pulled bubble-wrapped Raku-fired ceramic artwork in a yellow garden cart. One of the very first Art Market participants, Berman was convinced to get involved in 2003 by her artist friend Wendy Laker when they saw each other at Jazz Fest.
            Conceived by the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, the Mid-City Arts Market began as that neighborhood’s contribution to the celebration of the new, red Canal streetcars in May 2004. About 20 neighborhood artists participated, although many others clamored to be included. The one-day market was staged under a big tent at the corner of Canal Street and Carrollton Avenue. Dedicated volunteers, Wendy Laker, Pattye Brignac and Dottie Taylor, continued to coordinate the event for three years to help those trying to earn a living as full-time artists.
            Over the next three years, the market had to move five times, Taylor said. The organizers schlepped garbage bags and killed ants – whatever needed to be done on the hottest summer days and in the coldest of winter weather, she said. In April 2005, the event moved to City Park, which provided more space.
            Many of these same artists were exhibiting the Saturday before Hurricane Katrina. “We all knew there was a hurricane in the Gulf, but we stayed until we were told to evacuate,” said Nancy Eaves, a jewelry artist. Many needed to work the event to have enough cash to evacuate, Taylor said.
            In November 2005, the Arts Market returned to City Park. After the storm, sales were tremendous, Taylor said. “Shop local, stay local. Buy something unique and help local artists,” was how residents felt. “Art lifts your spirits and brings you joy,” she added about the psychic benefits.
             “I did Celebration of the Oaks 28 days straight,” Berman said regarding the holiday festival in the Botanical Garden. “I thought about moving out of New Orleans, but Wendy wouldn’t let me leave,” she said.
            But in October 2007, the market had to move again. “There wasn’t anyplace within our boundaries we could consistently use,” she said. Palmer Park, at the corner of South Carrollton and South Claiborne Avenues, however, was large enough to accommodate 100 or more artists. “The neighborhood embraced us,” said Laker. “That was the really best place to have it.”
            In June 2007, the Arts Council of New Orleans took over management of the Arts Market. “It was almost like having a child and sending it on its way,” Laker reflected.
            Local art gives people a sense of pride, Laker said. One of the original Mid-City artists was Heather Elizabeth who creates nostalgic jewelry and nightlights from vintage photos and old New Orleans company logos. When one of her customers saw the logo of Falstaff Brewing Corporation where her father worked, her eyes filled up with tears, Elizabeth recalled. As a child, the woman would point out light bulbs that had burned out on the brewery’s vertical sign and he would promise to replace them. “Every time I turn on this nightlight, I’ll think of my dad,” the woman told her.
            At two o’clock, a tremendous crack of thunder sounded and a rainstorm broke out. Shoppers took cover under the fragile tents while artists hustled to protect artwork from the downpour. Shaun Aleman, a veteran exhibitor, dumped excess rainwater off a neighbor’s sagging tent roof. Most of his work was painted on impervious salvaged wood, including a crowned King Cake baby he was inspired to make following his daughter’s birth.
            Glassmaker Jeremy Ballard weighted his tent, staking it to the ground. He learned that trick after his tent collapsed toppling a glass and brass chandelier.
            The storm subsided an hour later, but most vendors packed up their soggy belongings and fragile merchandise to go home. They’d already enjoyed brisk sales in the somewhat cooler weather – better than usual for this time of year. 
            Annette and Dave Moore planned to drive five hours to their home in West Monroe, but would stay in the city until Monday. The retired couple makes creations from 100-year-old ceiling tins. They planned to stay in a hotel and see the Saints play Sunday, Annette said.
            “Any excuse to come to New Orleans,” Annette Moore said.

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