Graphic: NY NOW®
There’s a reason “starving artist” became such a popular aphorism. Whenever there is uncertainty or a depressed economy, the first thing people tend to cut out of their budget is arts and culture.
So far, the national impact of the pandemic has been estimated by a survey conducted by Americans for the Arts to be $13.9 billion. For the arts and culture sector alone. Almost impossible to comprehend, and it is equally difficult to know how to help.
At New York Makers, we live to serve our community of creatives. So we have teamed up with the NY NOW® Digital Market to get more local art in the hands of powerful retailers and corporate buyers. The Market, like so much else, has gone digital this year, and will be held from October 3-7. We’re thrilled to report that some of our favorite Makers — including Bobby Sharp Glassworks, Adirondack Fragrance & Flavor Farm, Cave Glow Studio, and GioGio Design — will be featured.
We sat down with the director of the show, Allison Garafalo, to understand more about how New York artists are dealing with the challenges at hand, and how this show, and others like it, can help creatives today, tomorrow, and well into the future.
NEW YORK MAKERS: We’d love to hear more about what led you to your current role.
ALLISON GARAFALO: I grew up in Bayville on Long Island, and I was always inspired by artists and makers and was interested in the business side of creativity, recreation, and travel. I went to college at Drexel University for a year before transferring to Hofstra University, where I received my Bachelors in Business Administration. I continued on to George Washington University, where I received my Masters in Tourism Administration. I actually stumbled upon the trade show world by luck. I had just graduated from college and had moved back home. I was waitressing and my mother was working in White Plains in an office building where one of the companies happened to be GLM (the name of our company before we were bought by Emerald). She met a woman who worked there who told her they were hiring. Sixteen years later, I’m still here, and it has been an incredible journey. I have worked on many areas of the NY NOW® show throughout my time, but it wasn’t until I worked on the Handmade Collection that I truly felt this was what I was meant to do. I had always loved the trade show side of the work, but wanted to be more connected to the exhibitors and feel as if I was helping to grow maker businesses. Working with handmade companies has been truly rewarding.
NYM: What are you most excited about at Emerald right now?
AG: I wear two hats here at Emerald. I’m the Sales Director for the Handmade® Collection at NY NOW® as well as Show Director for the American Handcrafted® Philadelphia show. My passion lies with helping artisans and makers access markets and grow their business. As demand for handmade products continues to increase due to U.S. consumers and retailers seeking handmade, ethically sourced products that are sustainable and differentiated from mass-produced products, my goal is to continue to seek out new artisans and makers to introduce to serious buyers at our events.
NYM: How has the pandemic impacted you? It has transformed people’s lives and their perspectives, and I’d love to learn how that has changed how you approach your work.
AG: Personally, I consider myself lucky. My family and I are all healthy and well. My husband and I have both been working from home since March, and we’re making it work! Professionally, COVID-19 has certainly had an impact. We made the decision to postpone our August event to October and while we were hopeful to be able to gather, unfortunately it was just not possible. Once we made the decision to cancel the live show, we immediately began working on launching a digital platform so that our community could continue to meet and do business. While we’re excited for the day when we can come together again in person, we recognize that until we can safely do so, we need a way to keep makers connected and engaged with buyers. Once we are back to live events, there will certainly be new protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety.
NYM: What are your biggest concerns about how the maker industry moves forward?
AG: It’s important to continue to give makers a platform to be able to network, have access to education, and be able to build relationships with not only buyers, but also other makers. One thing I quickly learned when I transitioned to working with handmade makers was how willing people were to provide feedback and to mentor each other. It’s also important to provide resources from tips on how to navigate the new normal to sending along grant opportunities from industry organizations such as CERF+, which is helping businesses through these challenging times. I believe artisans/makers are very resilient and, while this past year has been extremely challenging on so many levels, I’m confident that by the community continuing to stick together and help each other, everyone will come out of this stronger. I also believe that post-COVID, people will be more conscious of how they spend their money and that supporting handmade businesses and purchasing unique, one of a kind items, will be second-nature. I’ve actually seen that accelerating in the past decade, and I think the current situation will permanently enmesh those buying patterns, and more importantly, that desire to support small community businesses, into our culture.
NYM: Do you see virtual shows and interactions becoming more of a regular feature of life?
AG: I believe it’s going to be important to continue to offer makers opportunities to network. Our goal going forward is to offer hybrid events. This will allow us to welcome makers from all over who may have never been able to make the investment that is involved with coming to the in-person show. While I believe there is no replacement for face-to-face, digital is a great option for those not ready to commit to the live event. By having a hybrid event we will be able to continue to deliver the largest juried collection of unique and original work across all media designed and handmade by artists with a focus on quality craftsmanship.
NYM: Can you tell me what NY NOW® is expecting in terms of digital attendance and sales?
AG: With this being the launch, it’s hard to say what our attendance will end up being. However, I can note that as of the other day we were at 3,500 pre-registered buyers and counting! With most buyers choosing to register the week of the event, we anticipate this will grow by the time we open. As of September 28, we have just over 600 exhibiting companies with 160+ falling under the Handmade Collection (Handmade Designer Maker, Handmade Global Design, American Handcrafted, and Artisan Resource)
NYM: How many makers are you working with? Are there any particular creators that you’re excited to introduce?
AG: In a live event we tend to work with over 500+ artisans. These include designer makers (this could be a glass blower with 1 or 2 people in the studio with them but generally smaller studios) and global artisans (these can either be US wholesalers working with overseas artisan cooperatives or actual oversees artisan groups looking to join and ship at an export price point). For the digital event, by the time the show goes live Saturday, I anticipate we will have over 200 handmade companies represented!
We’re excited to welcome some amazing new handmade brands to the market. In our Designer Maker section some new makers include Style Union Home, La La Glass, Flora Bhattachary Fine Jewelry, BRAID & WOOD Design Studio, and many more! Some new global artisan groups we’re welcoming for the first time include MADE51, Brunna Co, Luna Merdin, Yadawee, and Chako. And then of course we’re thrilled to be partnering with New York Makers and your companies exhibiting: Bobby Sharp Glassworks, Adirondack Fragrance & Flavor Farm, Cave Glow Studio, and GioGio Design. We look forward to building upon this partnership in the future to welcome even more makers to our events.
NYM: Of what else should we be aware?
AG: In addition to NY NOW®, we also run a show specific to makers producing in the USA and Canada. The American Handcrafted® Show is the largest American and Canadian handmade wholesale show, for buyers looking to embrace the art of traditional and modern craft. American Handcrafted® offers aisles of one-of-a-kind pieces with a unique story behind the product and the maker. Gathering annually in the “City of Love,” Philadelphia, buyers have the uncommon experience of discovering authentic products that offer individuality and self-expression. One of the New York Makers who joins us each year is Tom Stoenner Glass. We will also be launching a digital market for American Handcrafted® soon. Watch this space!
There’s so much to celebrate as we adjust to the “new normal.” Thankfully, artists — and organizations like Emerald — thrive on change, and are especially primed to tackle any problem creatively. We’re looking forward to continuing to support makers, and organizations like Emerald, to help make the world a more beautiful, interesting, thoughtful place.