It’s that time of year again: There’s a chill in the air, holiday tunes blast from the radio, fuzzy sweaters become a daily uniform … and hordes of holiday shoppers descend on malls across the city. We make our lists and check them twice, prowling for sales and trying to tick off gifts as quickly and efficiently as possible. But why not spread cheer a little more creatively this year? Arts markets offer an original alternative to mass-produced mall wares—not to mention a more fun shopping experience for harried holidaymakers.
Not sure where to start? The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) presents their Bazaart Holiday Art Market on Saturday, Nov. 26, while the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) holds their annual Art Market from Wednesday, Dec. 7, to Saturday, Dec. 10. Both events highlight original creations by talented artists, designers and craftspeople, encouraging community support for the arts and local businesses and inspiring a fresh twist on affordable gift-giving. Both markets offer free admission; goods range in price from $5 to $120.
Bazaart brings together artists and shoppers inside the Jim Rouse Visionary Center’s event space. Artists from all over the East Coast—all the way south from Florida and all the way north from New Hampshire—travel just to participate in the event. As for the shoppers, the population proves to be diverse: AVAM members, Baltimore locals, out-of-state visiting families, young students and old folks, ready to search for the perfect present. And if you’re worried about the crowds on Saturday, Bazaart offers a “First Dibs” party the night before where shoppers can talk directly with artists and preview their wares while enjoying some light fare, beer and wine for a small entrance fee.
“Bazaart is our most favorite time of the year,” artist Alison Spiesman gushes. Her partner, Brian Dowdall, has been participating in the Bazaart as an art vendor since 2006. His infamous “Wall of Color” is one of the most popular displays at the market, featuring paintings full of vivacity and spirit. For them, purchasing local arts as gifts instead of mass-produced goods is a no-brainer. “During the holiday season, [the mall] takes away the spirits, the peace and the love,” Dowdall states.
The two even frequent other markets, including the Kentuck Festival of the Arts and Folk Fest Atlanta. “We want to contribute back to the arts community,” Spiesman explains. Their shoppers’ track record proves their allegiance to arts markets—in the past years, Dowdell and Spiesman have purchased several items from Bazaart, including a painted table from artist Patti Backer, milk jugs with intricate painted designs, bright jewelry (Spiesman loves colorful earrings), hats and T-shirts with unique graphic type designs.
With more than 40 booths set up at Bazaart, it’s probably impossible not to find something a loved one will enjoy. Long tassel earrings crafted from cascade wood, certified organic lime and coconut lip cremes, sea creature plush toys made from a variety of recycled textiles, hand- printed flour sack tea towels … and fabulously on and on.
Not surprisingly, sustainable and eco-friendly wares are a norm to these markets. Artists such as Dowdall and Spiesman really value reusing various materials in their work. “We recycle and we like to hang on to things,” Spiesman says. For example, Dowdall turns paper bags and pizza boxes into his special animal spirits and goddess paintings. “Cardboard has a real humane, non-assuming, non-pretentious feeling to it,” he explains.
Similar environmentally-friendly artwork and crafts are popular at MICA’s Art Market as well; in the past, the market had participating artists selling upcycled wares like wearable art handbags made from recycled leather and handmade jewelry fashioned from board games. This year—its 10th anniversary—approximately 275 MICA students, alumni, faculty and staff are scheduled to present a wide variety of work within the bustle and buzz of MICA’s Brown Center.
Shoppers can discover emerging artists while helping raise scholarship dollars for MICA students. Artists set up their booths and tables inside the modern glass building, excited to greet shoppers and show them their creations. One of these makers is Jasjyot Singh Hans, an illustrator from New Delhi and MFA student in illustration practice at MICA. This year marks his second time participating as a vendor. “It’s a great feeling to have our work be directly available for people to make a part of their homes and lives,” he explains. “It’s been so rewarding to get responses from people, and is definitely a motivator to do more work.”
As a fairly new participant, Hans says he’s also psyched to sell at the market again because it teaches him lessons in branding and entrepreneurship as a student. He believes that the process of becoming an art vendor—“from conceptualizing the brand, doing market research, coming up with a visual identity, executing the products, setting pricing and having an inventory list”—provides solid insight into how a brand is created.
Hans also appreciates the feedback he’s received from those who’ve purchased from his collection, “Plushies for Non Kids,” which features fun plush toys for grownups made from digitally printed cotton fabric and polyfil. “There was a lovely man who got all three of my ‘Daddy<3’ leather plush designs. Then I saw a picture of his cat, Chaka Khan, on Instagram posing with them,” he discloses. “There was also a girl who bought one of my ‘Big is Beautiful’ body-positive plushies as a gift for her mother, but ended up not parting with it because she loved it too much herself!” This year, he plans on selling his body-positive plushies and prints once again.
Like Dowdall and Spiesman, Hans is a big-time market shopper himself. “I’m a compulsive hoarder,” he laughs. He enjoys stopping by the illustration practice booth, a custom-designed booth installed by students that features a wide variety of products, including zines, calendars, cushions, screen prints, greeting cards, mini- automata and more. Other personal favorite buys are handcrafted soaps, colorful prints by printmaking students and ceramic jewelry by alumni. “It’s important to support local groups and what they represent,” he explains. “There are a lot of local artists who have an alternative way that may not be part of the brand dialogue of the corporate world.”
Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar
Sundays through Dec. 18
Under the JFX at Holliday and Saratoga sts.
Vendors sell wares such as hand-dyed Peruvian wool yarns, natural cedarwood and eucalyptus beard oils and handcrafted wine racks. Get your seasonal produce (pumpkins, squash and apples for holiday cooking) and decorative greenery for the household. Stop in for a professional massage at Fashion Spa House’s booth, watch a cooking demo or gobble an authentic Mexican crepe breakfast.
11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Embrace the holiday spirit with indie crafters or create your own crafts at the photo booth or button-making table. Seasonal music and drinks offered. Bring the kiddos for a drop-in arts workshop—the more, the merrier!
Green Spring Makers Market
Green Spring Station
Experience the same vibes you’d get at Bryant Park’s holiday craft bazaar in NYC—but with a Baltimore twist—at this new event featuring more than 15 local crafters and artisans. Want a more personalized gift? Try fun DIY events like floral arranging or candle making. And with Baltimore’s best mixologists in attendance, your spirits will definitely stay merry and bright.