Pop-Up Art Skilled indie manufacturers are staking a claim in post-recession Baltimore and beyond—and their appeal is authentic and irresistible.

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Local artisans and pop-up shop organizers/actualizers Sarah Templin, Andy Cook and William Holman of the Industrial Arts Exchange.
Local artisans and pop-up shop organizers/actualizers Sarah Templin, Andy Cook and William Holman of the Industrial Arts Exchange.

On a late summer night this year, several working Baltimore artists came together to design—of all things —a user-friendly North Avenue department store stocked with original items, organized by merchandise departments (accessories, housewares, furnishings, etc.) rather than individual participants. The 75 vendors who’d signed on—without fee or the possibility of rejection—had little time to spare before the opening of the city’s first-ever pop-up department store featuring local makers’ wares for sale (and for corporate contractual consideration). The impromptu team got it done—and done well.

“There was a double rainbow that night,” says Sarah Templin, one of the three event facilitators who joined forces through an organization tagged the Industrial Arts Collective, or IAC.

Organized by William Holman (Deutsch Foundation, Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation and Open Works maker space), Templin (who owns the Radica Textiles custom business) and Andy Cook (Baltimore City Office of Sustainability), the pop-up shop ran three nights a week this fall, and even though Holman, Templin and Green didn’t quite know what to expect when they accepted the various designers and builders and seamstresses and diverse crafters, the event succeeded well beyond their highest expectations—meaning that many artists received bids for future products, and many more sold crafts on site, to the tune of a $20,000 profit.

Holman, for his part, is focused on growing small manufacturing in the city.

“Steel isn’t coming back,” says Holman. “Lockheed Martin isn’t about to build bombers here. We’re not going to drive mass employment. But if everyone of the 465 [estimated manufacturers located in Baltimore] hires one or two people, that looks like something. One of my favorite statistics: Small manufacturing has grown 60 percent since 2003.”

The next similar pop-up shop happens at the Women’s Industrial Exchange on Charles Street, in December, just in time for holiday shopping. All applications are accepted—in the same no-contest spirit of openness as before—so if you happen to make desks or dolls or old-fashioned tea cozies, maybe you’ve already considered applying. You’ve got economicmuscle you might not have imagined.

“Two critical events [connected to the pop-up shop]…brought architects, interior designers and more to meet our makers,” Holman explains of the fall event. “The Baltimore Integration Partnership or BIP was a co-sponsor, plus 11 local anchor institutions—hospitals, government organizations and universities—who spend over a billion dollars a year. The mission is to focus purchasing power on local businesses. So far, they’d focused on food purchasing. Next time Hopkins builds, can they use locals for cabinets, art, aprons. Instead of buying them from China, we’re making them right here.”

Can Holman cite a couple of contracts signed?

“Yes,” he says. “Two [artists] who have garnered contracts are Good Wood Design—who built the reception desk and other furniture for the JHU MICA film center on North Avenue—and the Surface Project. They’ve gotten contracts with Hopkins as well.”

Were the organizers worried that skipping the jury process might mean some works didn’t meet the mark in terms of craftsmanship or quality?

“I was nervous,” Templin admits. “But their products were all pretty well developed. I don’t know if we lucked out or if we just attracted good people. But there is a pretty substantial group of designers where they can sell things. They want a platform.”

Holman points out that he doesn’t want the lack of website—or a Twitter account—to be a roadblock for a real maker with something to contribute.

“I just want to be clear that the mission of the IAC is not going to be fulfilled unless it is a broad resurgence of craft across the city,” Holman says. “There was no curation—anyone who applied got in. There was no cost to participate. We felt that ‘jury’ or ‘curated’ can be a code word for ‘we don’t really like your work’ or ‘it doesn’t fit with our aesthetic.’ The aesthetic can be a code word for classist issues.”

Templin remembers a key moment that convinced her the IAC was making strides.

“I remember there was an apparel shop guy in attendance—and he fell in love with these T-shirts there,” Templin says. “He had to have them. He kept asking for contact information for the gallery that represented the shirt in the pop-up shop. This woman, Maxine Taylor, who made the shirt is actually 75. He was so blown away. She doesn’t text or tweet. So he went to her gallery, and they hung out. Now he’s curating her shirts in his store. I don’t know that they would have connected otherwise.”

Read on to learn about six local artisan brands. Five of them participated in the fall pop-up event: designer Rachel Bone of Red Prairie Press, Paul Rich of the Brothers Rich, furniture designer Jill Orlov, Whitney and Jacob Cecil of Almanac Industries and beauty product visionary Priya Narasimhan. These manufacturers are making life more smile-inducing and—no doubt—more shoppable and livable in our city.

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