Visual Arts

Kentucky Crafted: the Market returns to Lexington

Pamela Mattei of DyeSigns by Pamela worked on her display at last year's Kentucky Crafted. The market is open first to wholesalers and then to the public. This year, it returns to Lexington.
Pamela Mattei of DyeSigns by Pamela worked on her display at last year's Kentucky Crafted. The market is open first to wholesalers and then to the public. This year, it returns to Lexington. Photo courtesy Kentucky Arts Council

This year, Kentucky Crafted: The Market, the state's major marketing opportunity for artists, craftsmen, musicians and locally produced foods, returns to its roots in Lexington.

The market was first held in 1982 at the Kentucky Horse Park for a small number of potential store buyers. As it grew, it moved to the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

For its 30th year, the market is coming to the Lexington Convention Center downtown.

That would make for a short trip for Lexington glass artist Dan Neil Barnes, if he weren't traveling to shows in Florida and Baltimore beforehand. But Barnes said he's glad to see the show in his hometown.

"I'm excited for all the local artists who won't have to travel and for the public who will get a chance to see it," Barnes said.

The first two days of the show are open only to wholesale buyers, but the weekend opens to the public, and people will get to see musicians, storytellers and artisans show off everything from hand-made furniture to socks.

Barnes said the market is crucial for many artists to reach a broader retail audience.

"My business is primarily retail," Barnes said. "But the Kentucky Crafted market is really geared for the smaller pieces that stores carry. It's a nice venue for a lot of people and helps those people throughout the year. ... A lot of people will benefit from the wholesale market."

For some artists, this will be the bulk of their sales for the year, said Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council, which organizes the show.

"There are some artists who don't do wholesale work, but this is really built as a way to reach those buyers," Meadows said. For them, the market has become "critical," she said.

The market was the brainchild of former Kentucky first lady Phyllis George, who saw the potential for a gathering to connect Kentucky's craftspeople with a wider range of buyers than might typically be found at any one arts fair.

The market is produced annually by the Kentucky Arts Council and is funded by the General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"It's been very successful," Meadows said. "We have some artists who have been in the program from the very beginning."

With an annual budget of about $200,000, the market attracts about 200 vendors and 500 buyers from 20 states. In the past, it has drawn 10,000 people but, in recent years, attendance slipped, said Ed Lawrence, spokesman for the council. That led to the decision to try a fresh venue.

"Sales were actually flat at the fairgrounds the last couple of years, so we thought we would mix it up," he said. The public didn't always enjoy the walk from the fairgrounds' parking lot in the winter, and the downtown Lexington location will offer outside opportunities for dining.

He said the advance bookings indicate that it is working. "We're ahead of the game in buyer registrations," Lawrence said.

Along with the new location come some changes in the format: The Kentucky Stage will be moved to front and center to give entertainers more prominence. And the market is trying more adventurous workshops on the arts, rather than focusing on marketing.

Gospel singer John Edmonds of Bowling Green will offer people a chance to learn firsthand what it's like to be in a church choir. Along the way, they will learn about the history of gospel and its influence in the black community, he said.

The plan, he said, is to teach 30 to 50 people two or three songs in an hour or two. Then they will go onstage with Edmonds and perform Oh What a Reunion and A Word From Heaven from memory.

"A challenge? These are people I've never met before," Edmonds said. But he has high hopes.

"This will be my first time doing it in Lexington, and I'm hoping it goes well," he said, laughing. He has been a veteran to the market since the '90s and will be selling his CDs there.

"I think it's a wonderful thing for people to showcase themselves as entertainers," Edmonds said. "You get to buy authentic handmade crafts and see Kentucky talent."

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