Ceramic artist Min Oh called her electrician with a peculiar request: She needed a hotter garage.
Oh wanted to set up a kiln to create mugs and other ceramic work to sell at festivals and at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park. Once the electrician rewired her garage so that it could become warm enough for her projects to set, her dream of having an at-home studio came true. And Oh sold enough work at the farmers market last year to pay her bills.
That stream of revenue stopped in April, when the market announced it would only allow farmers to sell produce and other food, in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “A lot of artists like me that produce from a single studio didn’t have anywhere to go when COVID hit and they lost all their income,” Oh said.
But in June, when Oh saw on Instagram that the Utah Arts Alliance was organizing an outdoor art market with special COVID-19 accommodations, “it was like another door opened to us,” she said. “It’s not the same as it was before, but at least we can connect with buyers and show off our work to the public.”
The Art and Craft Market at The Gateway opened on June 20 with little publicity as a sort of “test run,” according to Kimberly Angeli, UAA festival and events director.
“As an event planner, everything that we’re trying to do now is incredibly hard,” Angeli said. “There’s so much responsibility that you bear to ensure you’re putting public safety first.”
Organizers provided sanitization stations at the entrance, in the middle of the market and at the exit. Booths were set up with 12 feet of space between them along Rio Grande Street. All vendors and UAA staff wore masks and gloves, and only visitors who wore masks were allowed in, even before Gov. Gary Herbert allowed a local mandate that Salt Lake County residents wear them in situations where social distancing isn’t possible.
The booths needed to be staggered, instead of in front of one another, along Rio Grande to allow enough spacing for safe lines of customers. Cashless transactions were required to purchase works from the 18 vendors at the market.
Angeli and her team felt the first event was safe enough to reproduce every Saturday. The market will continue to be held on Saturdays at The Gateway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the same accommodations, until at least the end of August and possibly longer.
She worked with artistic coordinator Chelsea Latta to develop the market after the alliance “had some artists reach out in a bit of panic about how they were going to support their businesses without the direct consumer environments that they had depended on for many years,” Angeli said.
Latta explained that many artists, like Oh, rely entirely on income made from markets and at festivals across the U.S. to support themselves. “COVID has severely impacted all of them,” Latta said.
Oh said she didn’t meet the criteria to receive federal financial relief through the Paycheck Protection Program, and said other artists she’s spoken to at the market didn’t receive government funds, either.
Oh, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to Utah 15 years ago, opened an Etsy shop last year to try to expand her audience. She poured her attention into reaching more people online when COVID hit, but said she missed the connection that comes from selling her work face to face.
“With arts and crafts, and especially with my product ceramics, if you see it in person, it brings out all the colors and textures,” Oh said. “It feels completely different than seeing it online. Even if the customer doesn’t buy anything, they get a better appreciation for arts and crafts by seeing it.”
Some vendors, like Oh, sell their wares every Saturday. Others are signed up on a waitlist and rotate in when there’s availability, but space is limited. Latta said the alliance prioritizes giving those who rely on art and crafts sales as their primary source of income a chance to sell.
“This market isn’t the answer for these vendors,” Angeli said. “This is just one of many ways that you have to move to be a successful artist now.”
Veronica Benavides was laid off from her job as an interior designer because of COVID-19 cuts in April. She had sold crafts at the Downtown Farmers Market three years ago, and when she received an email about the Art and Craft Market, she signed up right away.
Benavides sells “things that people can use on an everyday basis to brighten up their space,” she said. She offers coasters, wreaths and other home decor items to help cover her bills while she looks for her next job.
“It’s been nice to go out and showcase all the stuff I’ve made while I’ve been cooped up in my house,” Benavides said. “I was really excited to be out there and socialize in a safe way.”
She said that the first few weeks of the market were slow, but that “lately it’s starting to liven up. ... It’s really cool to see people coming out.”
Amanda Tafua, who owns and operates Mountain West Supplies, a company that sells custom sports uniforms, had to rethink her business model when COVID-19 killed the market for them. The company started producing designer masks in March, and Tafua sells them at the market.
“It’s been amazing to see that as you listen to what people need and as you’re looking for ways to help them, there’s going to be a way to continue a business and be profitable,” Tafua said.
Moving from uniforms to masks allowed Tafua to keep her business afloat and eventually bring back employees who were furloughed. She also sells her masks at pop-up shops and has donated many to local fire and police departments.
The market also provides UAA an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the arts and make connections with new artists to include in its Urban Arts Gallery. The gallery and UAA’s immersive art attraction Dreamscapes, both located along Rio Grande Street, closed in March when the state shut down nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of coronavirus. They have since reopened with new safety precautions.
“This whole year has been humbling,” Latta said. “Just being able to provide a venue has been an honor for me to help these people out.”
Latta walks the length of the market each Saturday to check in with the vendors and ensure everyone is following safety protocols. The vendors of Wolf Wares, who sell dog collars, bring their dogs, but no one is allowed to pet them for fear of spreading the illness.
Foot traffic has increased heavily in recent weeks, Latta said, and “the vibe at the market is just awesome.” And the market has the space to safely accommodate more browsers, Angeli said.
Oh said she feels grateful to be able to sell her ceramics at the market, and hopes it will incentivize the Salt Lake City community to support the arts.
“There’s a lot of awesome artists here,” Oh said. “You don’t have to necessarily come buy stuff. Just get out of the house and come and look at the work.”
ART AND CRAFT MARKET AT THE GATEWAY
The Art and Craft Market at The Gateway is organized by the Utah Arts Alliance with special COVID-19 precautions: Masks are required, booths are 12 feet apart, sanitization stations are provided and transactions are cashless.
When: Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 2 p.m., continuing until at least the end of August, and possibly through October.
Where: Along Rio Grande Street in The Gateway, between 100 and 200 South in downtown Salt Lake City.