Joey Kennedy/Handmade Arcade
Thread + Love (right) at the 2016 Handmade Arcade
Since its founding in 2004, Handmade Arcade
has connected dozens of artists, crafters, and designers with consumers looking for handcrafted goods. This year, though, it looked as if COVID-19 would put their in-person events on hold, including its massive holiday-time craft fair.
“When everything shut down in March, our immediate response was to think creatively about ways we can continue to meet our core mission in a very different landscape,” says Handmade Arcade executive director, Tricia Brancolini-Foley. “We realized very quickly that we would have to begin immediate planning for a pivot to an online platform if we were to continue to serve our community of makers and consumers.”
Now vendor applications are open for DIGITAL DIY: A Virtual Marketplace
. A press release boasts that the new online event, taking place Sat. Nov. 28 through Sun. Dec. 6, will “showcase 150 innovative crafters, makers, designers and artists” from throughout Pittsburgh, Western Pa., and the U.S.
The event offers some hope for small, independent business owners, artists, and crafters who have taken a financial hit from the cancellation of in-person markets. While many still sell through their online stores, Val Snyder, owner of Simon's Granddaughter
and a member of the Handmade Arcade Planning Committee, believes the effects of COVID-19 has shaken the community in more ways than one.
“The pandemic has brought about so many unknowns that I almost feel like I’ve been lost in the chaos of a new normal,” says Snyder. “I’m a maker who primarily sells at in-person events, and I have already missed three canceled summer markets and it seems likely that I may miss two winter ones as well.”
Samantha Bower, another Handmade Arcade Planning Committee member who runs her own jewelry company, LUSTER, says the pandemic “has been a shock to the system of almost every industry,” and that crafters and makers “have certainly been hit hard.”
“We have seen small, independent shops shutter their doors, and almost all in-person markets and events have been canceled out of safety concerns,” says Bower.
While Handmade Arcade will return, other supporters of local artists and craftspeople have struggled to survive. The designer-owned storefront Make + Matter permanently closed
in May, while places like Workshop PGH
, which sells locally made goods in addition to teaching various classes, have struggled to stay afloat.
There's also the loss of connection, as many in the arts and crafts community miss selling alongside their peers and interacting with customers.
Given the loss of so many opportunities for people in the arts and crafts scene, Brancolini-Foley knew that canceling Handmade Arcade altogether was not an option.
“We realized that canceling our popular event altogether could be financially devastating for many members of Pittsburgh's creative economy and felt that we had an obligation to them to figure out how we can maintain our event and support,” says Brancolini-Foley.
Joey Kennedy/Handmade Arcade
Handmade Arcade shoppers check out ceramics by Jowdy Studio
Still, Bower says she has seen an upswing in online sales, adding that she looks forward to a “virtual holiday season where I can pack and ship safely from home.”
Snyder adds that “Pittsburgh has a strong support system for its crafters and makers” and is optimistic that events like DIGITAL DIY could really make a difference to the community.
Jennifer Baron, director of marketing for Handmade Arcade, says she has visited “several online craft events and fairs produced by organizations in other cities or states.” This includes Renegade Craft, a popular Chicago-based craft fair that she says has produced several smaller online markets.
Brancolini-Foley says the online market will operate much like the in-person event, with vendors being chosen through a juried selection process, and side activities, including hands-on demonstrations, Meet the Maker Q&As, and raffles and special giveaways, all taking place through video or live streaming. However, unlike the regular two-day event, DIGITAL DIY will stretch across nine days in order to take advantage of Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
Brancolini-Foley believes building the DIGITAL DIY platform is essential to guaranteeing the success of Handmade Arcade and its vendors, as it is “built such a way that we will be able to replicate and scale it in order to host a virtual marketplace at any time in the future.”
“Moving forward, we will be in a position to quickly assist the maker community to stay viable and thrive during difficult times,” says Brancolini-Foley, adding that they also plan to make Handmade Arcade more accessible by launching virtual marketplaces in conjunction with all future in-person events.
The deadline for DIGITAL DIY vendor applications has been extended to Mon., Sept. 7.