Marketplaces: The New Art Fair

Marketplaces: The New Art Fair

There’s a new format for art fairs in town and if you’re not already aware of them, you should be! Whether you’re a fan of supporting small businesses, picking out the perfect gift, finding new ways to market your product, or trying to get into the business of selling, marketplaces may be the next business venture for you!

For the creator, artisan, and small business who is just dipping their toe into selling, marketplaces are less about art & exhibition, and more about your product, small business, community, and collaboration. If you haven’t participated in an art fair due to cost, labor, and accessibility, a local marketplace event could be a more affordable and doable option for you. I have both planned a marketplace event and attended a few so here is my perspective from both the planner and participant.

What’s a marketplace event? A marketplace is a temporary curated retail event usually found and promoted through social media. They are like an art or craft fair where there are multiple vendors with tables or booths that sell products.

These marketplaces often emphasize the local aspect of the creative product and participating small businesses. They are often in unique spaces, design collectives, decorated warehouses, breweries, and more. Space is a part of the design and lures to visit the marketplace.

They tend to occur around the holidays as they pair nicely with gift buying, but can be found throughout the entire year. It’s an update on the art fair that doesn’t involve entire weekends outside in a white plastic tent and the craft fair that’s held in a fluorescence lit elementary school gymnasium full of banquet tables. It’s highly curated and involves high-quality merchandise where engagement and creativity are key. They can last as short as a day or a couple months.

For the curious Minnesota shopper, local artist, creator, or small business entrepreneur these pop-up marketplaces include the Lowertown Pop, MAD Design Pop-Up, The LAB’s “The Collective,” the Northeast Nightmarket, and the pop-up at The Food Building.

So, while you may have heard of a few marketplaces or attended a few yourself, if you are an enterprising small business, this is something that has been around for many years. The marketplace model actually started in the 1990s but has become trendy in the local Twin Cities over the past few years. They are definitely something you should get involved with if you haven’t already.

Featured makers are less about art and more about small goods. Think along the lines of jewelry, specialty clothing lines, accessories, and handmade gifting items. It’s about fine craftsmanship with specialty items in mind and quality is key. For example, it’s less about paintings and more about what product your painting or can be turned into, a cosmetic bag, a printed apparel item, a scarf, etc.

Collaboration is key to the marketing aspect of finding or participating in the marketplace. Many pop-up shops are small one-time-only or once-a-year events. Many of these events utilize social networking to get the word out. So, knowing who the key people are and following their networks is essential to finding these pop-up shops.

As a participating business or artist, cross-promotion is also important as the audience of one small local shop may attend, but can quickly find other vendors and artisans they love too. Promoting the marketplace or pop up you are participating in is key to success.

Instagram is the leading network for finding local small business creators and these pop-up marketplaces. Get on those social networks, send out invites and get the people in the door.

Environment, space, and vibe of the marketplace is what lures people in. Sometimes they are located in an area of town not frequented or not thought of for such a use. Part of the adventure is trying to find some of these places.

Once you’ve located the Marketplace, you can usually find specialty cocktails, coffee carts, and other refreshments available (either free or for cost) to add to the vibe and experience of the space. Lingering and snacking while browsing the tables is encouraged. Bold and simple but repetitive decorations are how the spaces are set up, think big balloons, neutral color themes, plants, etc.

Another unique aspect of the pop-up shop vibe is the additional activities that are taking place. This is where some of the uniqueness comes out in each event. There can be live music, performers, demonstrations or How-To workshops, business or special guest talks, cocktail mixing or coffee carts, in-progress paintings, and more.

To get involved with marketplaces, the first thing to do is to start attending them. See what they do that makes their pop-up unique or different. Start locating key players, you will begin to notice certain artisans and businesses seem to attend all the pop-ups, follow them and watch what they are doing. When you’re ready, begin reaching out and inquiring about participating early, once the holiday season is upon us, or once the summer markets open up, it’s probably too late. Do your research as well, digging into some potential future marketplaces. I’ve come across fees from free to $300+ to participate. So don’t think that just because this isn’t your typical art fair that the cost isn’t still a factor here.

What are some of your favorite marketplaces you frequent? And for artisans and small businesses who have participated, what have been your experiences as participating vendors?



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