‘Great for the Neighborhood’
Second Annual Portland Fine Craft Show Brings Visitors to West End
by Tony Zeli
The WCSH Sidewalk Art Festival has been running for over 50 years. They draw up to 30,000 people every August. For the second year they will be joined by the Portland Fine Craft Show along the 6oo block of Congress Street, on August 27th, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For a time, the WCSH show went up to the 600 block, where we find West End businesses such as One Longfellow Square, Congress Bar and Grill, Optimal Self Gym, Coffee By Design and dozens of artists, retailers, restaurants and venues. The businesses enjoyed having thousands of visitors strolling the street in front of their establishments.
For whatever reasons the art show moved down the road and now ends at High Street. At least one 600 block business thought it was time to bring the art shoppers back.
“The sidewalk art festival used to come all the way up to State Street, or Park Street anyway,” says Patty Daunis. Patty runs a fine jewelry store at 616 Congress Street.
“It was great for the neighborhood with all kinds of activity going on… The thing I always loved about the sidewalk art festival was that there were lots of people, but they all had art under their arms, too. They were buying art. So it was just a great, happy event going on.”
There was no substantial fine craft show going on in Portland at the time. The beloved Audubon art and craft show in Falmouth had just ended. And this particular stretch of road was available.
Patty Daunis talked with Sadie Bliss of the Maine Craft Association. Her idea was simple. Hold a juried craft show on the same day as the sidewalk art festival.
The Maine Craft Association was founded in 1983 in Deer Isle to support craft artists. Today, they seek to brand Maine as a national crafts destination.
The Maine Craft Association is funded by the likes of the Maine Arts Commission and Maine Office of Tourism. A fine craft show in downtown at the peak of summer season is a good idea. Holding it on a day when tens of thousands of art lovers are already expected to visit is a great idea.
Sadie started doing the leg work to make the first annual Portland Fine Craft Show happen. She talked with the other players. Portland Downtown thought it was a great idea. WCSH had no problem with it. In fact, it solved a problem for them.
The WCSH Art Festival only shows two-dimensional work like paintings, photos and prints. Craft artists were interested in that show but they weren’t allowed in. WCSH now has a place to direct the craft artists.
“It’s a seamless thing with the WCSH art show, so it’s the same audience,” Patty Daunis says. “It’s an audience that loves art and they love crafts. Both shows support each other really well.”
“The more the merrier,” says Sadie Bliss. “The shows appear to the public as two sections of the same show. Only we know they are organized differently… It is a completely different type of product and there are certainly many people who support both.”
WCSH General Manager Brian Cliffe agrees, “We heard many positive comments last year from patrons of the art festival. Portland has a vibrant arts community. The Craft Show compliments the day’s festivities nicely.”
Going into its second year the Portland Fine Craft Show is growing from 80 to 100 exhibitors. Also new this year, there will be food trucks.
Expect to find a good balance of all the standard craft categories, such as ceramics, glass, metal work, jewelry, wood and furniture, fiber and mixed media. There will be a wide price range from small mugs, purses and earrings, to higher-end collector items that could sell for thousands.
“I would say it is just a really exciting mix of artists that [visitors] are not going to find at other shows. There is always something kind of rebellious and fun about being out in the street, and the street being closed. It is a great way to run into people that they know, artists they know, as well as a lot of people they don’t.
“All the businesses on the street will be open that day. It should be a nice day to cruise down the street,” says Sadie.
It is too late to exhibit. Sadie is still looking for volunteers, though. To exhibit in 2017, join the Maine Craft Association mailing list and get notice when the application comes out in the Fall. Visit their website for more information: mainecrafts.org.
Sadie recommends registering at juriedartservices.com. This digital service runs juries for thousands of craft shows.
Can’t make it to the Portland Fine Craft Show but want to support Maine craft artists? Visit the Maine Craft Association in West Gardiner. They run the Center for Maine Craft, a retail gallery featuring hundreds of Maine fine craft artists. They are open daily until October 12th from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.