MADE Fairs wrap up record year
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POLSON — Handmade Montana recently wrapped up its biggest year of MADE Fairs yet, supporting artists throughout the state and providing new opportunities for Montanans to shop local.
Started 16 years ago in a little room above a bar, with about 18 artists by cofounders Carol Lynn Lapotka and Angie Oakins, Lapotka said the MADE Fair grew in popularity from there. Feeling it could become something bigger, Lapotka filed for Handmade Montana LLC to oversee the fairs, offer an expansive website to artists and consumers, and eventually open up a retail location in Polson.
Expanding to the largest rentable locations in each city, Lapotka said the extra space allowed them to add tables for nonprofits to attend as well. Nonprofits that help out in the MADE Fairs are able to earn some funds for their own endeavors, while helping to support local artists and creators, making for a mutually beneficial arrangement. Additionally, they’ve held food drives at their fall and holiday fairs since the beginning, something Lapotka said is just to be able to give back to the communities that support their endeavors.
This year, between the five events spread out between Missoula, Bozeman, and Helena, the MADE Fair had about 450 artist applications for the approximately 200 spots and saw record attendance at all events. About four years ago, the growing popularity of the fair – seeing 2,500 people in just 20 minutes – necessitated the introduction of VIP tickets, allowing people to shop an hour ahead of the crowd for $10 to thin the herd and give funds to the nonprofits. At the Missoula holiday MADE Fair this year, Lapotka said they sold over 900 VIP tickets, their largest quantity ever. In total, the MADE Fair raised over $15,000 for nonprofits and collected around 1,500 pounds of food at their food drives.
“It’s a lot of people coming out to support local artists and purchase handmade goods, it was very exciting” Lapotka commented. “We’re just very grateful for everyone’s continued support for our events. A lot goes into them.”
Having only recently added the spring fair this year, there aren’t any current plans to add additional fairs to 2023. However, Lapotka continues to refine the fair every year, based on feedback from surveys taken afterward. One change implemented this year from previous feedback was the reduction of the fair from two days to one so artists wouldn’t have to worry about staying overnight somewhere.
In the meantime, their brick-and-mortar store at 212 Main Street in Polson continues to provide a venue for local artists year round. While they do work with a couple artists that have moved away from the state, Lapotka said about 99% of everything the store offers is made in Montana. Additionally, every artist that participates with Handmade Montana gets a profile page on the website – handmademontana.com – which is expanding its online retail as well. Last year, between all the events and the retail store, Handmade Montana estimates over $1 million in total was earned by the participating artists.
“We have a pretty diverse collection of things, and we like to say it’s all functional and affordable art,” Lapotka explained. “It’s a way to reach a lot of people, and we continue to see a lot of people supporting events and stores like ours and it’s great to know that people are choosing to spend their dollars locally.”
The next MADE Fair will be held in Bozeman the first weekend in May. Those interested in getting involved - either with the fair or the store - can apply online in January at: handmademontana.com or reach out for more information at: email@example.com. While there will be slight price increases due to venue pricing going up – the Bozeman’s venue increased by 25% this year – the MADE Fair is committed to keeping the impact minimal.
“We’re just really grateful to all the communities we have our events in,” Lapotka said. “We really appreciate the continued support.”