Craft fairs are back! Good news for local artists whose earnings crashed during the pandemic

Some artists saw their earnings drop up to 80% when arts and crafts fairs disappeared in 2020.

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Thursday, December 2, 2021
Artists welcome return of craft fairs after pandemic struggles
Some artists saw their earnings drop up to 80% when arts and crafts fairs disappeared in 2020. They hope their return will signal better times.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The return of arts and crafts fairs is welcome news to Bay Area artists, who have struggled throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

After years working as an art teacher, Shawna Chan was hitting her stride in 2019 as a professional illustrator.

"When I started doing art under the brand Bloody Girl Gang, I was just using that as an outlet to express my personal feeling about being marginalized as an immigrant who is a woman of color," said Chan. "When COVID hit, I was, 'What can I do? How can I pay rent. I can't sell my art anymore.'"

Chan was not alone in feeling that despair.

Arts and crafts fairs are more than a place for artists to sell goods. They are also a community-gathering place for those who toil alone in their homes or studios.

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"I've met people, other vendors where we're out there all day and then they're like, 'Hey, I'm doing this market, you should sign up' or 'I think you'll be good for that,'" said Alisia Lundie.

She creates ceramic home goods out of her Oakland studio under the brand Neekosan Ceramics.

She estimates 80% of her income disappeared when art fairs were canceled last year.

"My business and my job kind of imploded a little bit. I went through a few things like a housing crisis," said Lundie, who also lost her job as a bartender at the time.

The pandemic also hit hard at The Crucible, an industrial arts center in West Oakland.

"This is the perfect environment for folks to be able to learn a skill that they can translate into opportunities entrepreneurially," said Ismael Plasencia, community program manager at The Crucible.

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The center relies on artists to teach classes like woodworking, glass making, blacksmithing, welding, ceramics and more. It offers over 150 different classes.

"A lot of our teaching artists are folks that rely heavily on being able to teach their crafts," said Plasencia.

The center eventually reopened but is not yet back at full capacity, but not because of COVID-19 restrictions. It is having trouble filling teaching slots because a lot of artists moved out of the area during the pandemic.

"A lot of folks couldn't afford to live here. We're really trying to grasp who's still around. Who's still available to provide instruction," said Plasencia.

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The Crucible was able to give out $75,000 in grants to its art community and continues to offer a free food pantry to help struggling instructors.

This year, it is also bringing back Gifty, its holiday crafts fair that was canceled last year.

"We really rely on a lot of artists to make this place function and work. We're really happy to be able to provide a platform for local artists and artisans to be able to sell their wares and display a lot of the work that they are doing," explained Plasencia.

Lundie is one of the artists who will sell her crafts at the fair.

"There's a lot of talk right now about supply chain and gifts, but there's a lot of local people making amazing art," said Lundie. "Buying gifts from local artists ensures the money goes back into the community."

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Chan is also looking forward to selling her unique artwork at the show, although she admits the events drain her mentally.

"To put myself out there and to meet people who come to the events, that is really very rewarding at the end of the day for me. I usually pass out after working a show," said Chan.

The Crucible's Gifty craft show and open house will take place Saturday and Sunday at the center's West Oakland location.

There will also be live demonstrations of glass making, blacksmithing and other the classes offered at the center.