Friday, June 25, 2010

supporting the arts

 is primarily a sustainable food/nutrition blog, but I also want to use it from time to time to talk about other, maybe more general, topics surrounding sustainability. Yesterday I attended the annual Lemonade Arts Fair in my hometown of St. Cloud, MN. I look forward to the event every year, as I am always in awe of the talented and versatile artists that are a part of my community. After buying some fresh sugar-snap peas (from Stoneybrook Farms in Foley, MN) to crunch on, my sister and I set out on our mission. Though our time was cut short by some other plans, I was excited to leave with a bottle cap necklace (from Pop Top Art out of Minneapolis) and two tea-themed coasters (GEMA Cards & Coasters from Burnsville and Eagan, MN). It took me about 20 minutes to pick from the vast array of necklaces and 10 from all the cute coasters, but thankfully Rachel was there to put her foot down and make me decide (see photos of what I finally decided on below). And although part of my good-mood as we left was due to my new-found treasures, most of it was a result of the conversations I'd had with the people who made these treasures, as we laughed about my indecision. You can't get that in a department store or from shopping online. So, without further ado (and that was quite a bit of ado), today I'd like to discuss the value of supporting local artists and artisans.

Nowadays it is easy to find art, roomwares, gifts, and clothing in whatever style you like, be that cutsie, edgy, Victorian, eclectic, vintage, modern, shabby, or even Trekkie. You can walk into your nearest Target, Ikea, or Kohl's and find dishware in nearly all of these styles (well, maybe not Trekkie), and usually for a reasonable price. And that's great. Modern technology has made it possible for us to have all this variety only a five-minute drive away, which makes it easier (and more fun) to express ourselves through something as small as the design on the coffee mugs we buy and the coasters we rest them on. But the other great things about technology is that it's also made it extremely easy to find the work of obscure, locally-based artists across the globe. And it only takes a little more time and effort (and only occasionally more money) to support these often-struggling artists and express ourselves outside of what Target decides is most popular.

The most sustainable way to shop is through artists based in your own area, but buying online through other small businesses comes in close second. The Internet has made it extremely easy to do both. If you're passionate about supporting artists and artisans in your own community, check out your local newspaper's website for information about upcoming art fairs and the like. There are even websites devoted to helping you find such local events. Some good examples are:
Festival Network Online
Art Fair
Fairs and

If you want to go beyond your community and find an absolutely endless array of unique artists around the world, then look no further than etsy. I can lose myself for hours just drooling over all the beautiful and eclectic pieces of art. And shipping is usually very manageable.

There are dozens of reasons to shop locally for handmade goods, and I simply can't discuss them all in detail here. But here's a list of some of the reasons I feel compelled to support local artisans, along with some sources to help you get more detail if you so desire.
1. It's more environmentally sustainable.You don't need me to tell you that mass production sends tons of pollution into our water, soil, and air.
2. It makes it possible for others to do what the love for a living. That's everyone's dream, isn't it? Purchasing from local artists enables them to continue living out their dreams. Now doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
3. By buying from small businesses, you are doing your part in the fight against sweatshops and other unjust labor practices. Every mass-produced purchase you DON'T make is a step towards the end of all the exploitation that affects the lives of millions of laborers.
4. It's fun and heart-warming to be able to talk with the actual people making the products. Like I mentioned above, the artists selling the coasters tried to help me with my dilemma of which coasters to buy, and the woman selling the pop top necklaces was more than happy to share about how she makes her unique products. You get to learn people's stories this way, and it's a great reminder that every purchase you make a difference in someone's life.
5. Handmade gifts are more meaningful. Your recipients will appreciate the extra thought and time you put into finding a unique gifts for them, and will especially be glad to know that the purchase of their gift is supporting a local artisan.
6. Shopping local keeps your money in your community. This is pretty simple: you support business owners in your community and they're more likely to spend that money at other businesses in your community, which is good for your local economy and therefore good for you.

For more information on the importance buying from local artists and artisans, check out these sources:
Why Buy Handmade?
Behind the Label
Sweat Free Communities
Craftivism Blog
Big Box Tool Kit

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art. Craft, and Design by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses by Stacy Mitchell

Short and Full Documentaries
Made in L.A.
Handmade Nation 
The Yes Men
Life + Debt
The Empire's New Clothes Only nine minutes, watch it for free!

Want to make a more conscious effort to buy from local artisans? Take the Handmade Pledge here!


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