If you’ve heard about Kentucky Crafted: The Market (KCTM) for the past 28 years but have never attended, now’s the time. There’s no better place to experience the best Kentucky has to offer from artists, craftspeople, performers, food producers, and media and literary artists, all of whom are either adjudicated members of Kentucky Arts Council (KAC) programs, Al Smith Fellowship recipients or Performing Arts Directory artists.
Next month, this four-day extravaganza of all things Kentucky opens its doors for the 29th time at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville. On the first two days, March 17 and 18, wholesale buyers purchase in quantity for business resale. The final two days, March 19 and 20, afford the public the chance to peruse, talk to craftspeople, be entertained, sample tasty regional treats, meet authors and filmmakers and do your own shopping.
At the Kentucky Quilt Trails booth, you can discover art in your own backyard and paint a full-scale barn quilt yourself.
On all four days, performers hold sway on two stages. Tap your toes to the lively old-time string music of the Downtown County Band. Laugh at the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s version of “Twelfth Night,” an interactive play with music and puppetry. Explore Mohawk American Indian culture through the drumming and songs of Susan Mullins. Groove to the banjo-pickin’ and singing of singer, songwriter and dancer Carla Gover and to the lilting melodies of solo guitarist Pat Kirtley. And hear three Kentucky poets laureate – Jane Gentry Vance, Richard Taylor and Joe Survant – read from their work.
There’s a film-screening room, where you can watch Joe Gray’s “Big Nam,” a documentary that features two veterans examining their experiences in Vietnam. You can even discuss “Up the Ridge,” a story about a struggling coal-mining community, with filmmaker Nick Szuberla after the show.
Kids can make impressionistic paintings, miniature sawdust carpets and handwoven masterpieces. And claymation creator Ruben Moreno will help you build your own clay character and take stop-action photos of it to animate your “movie star.”
Award-winning KCTM consistently has been recognized as one of the top 10 fairs and festivals in the nation by the readers of American Style magazine. Its history shows why.
In 1980, Kentucky First Lady Phyllis George Brown initiated a promotion at Bloomingdale’s that featured Kentucky crafts. Surprisingly, the Big Apple took notice.
“The realization that there was a New York market for Kentucky handmade items was a real eye opener,” said Beau Haddock, director of media and public relations for KAC, which now produces KCTM. “Not only was it a big economic opportunity but it was also an opportunity to preserve an entire arts culture.”
The following year, Kentucky Craft Marketing began in the mountains of Appalachia as part of a reorganization of state government during the John Y. Brown Jr. administration. The program was conceived with the idea of offering a wholesale market source for artists as an alternative to having to travel all year to numerous shows across the country to sell their products, with no guarantee that total sales would even cover their monthly bills.
In 1982 the newly created crafts division of the Department of the Arts sponsored a crafts fair at the Kentucky Horse Park. The goal of the initial show was to provide an opportunity for 200 invited buyers from the nation’s most successful galleries and stores to put Kentucky-crafted products on their shelves. Artists and craftspeople, both large and small operations, could display and sell their wares at one venue with guaranteed buyer exposure.
Successful since its inception, the fair was officially named Kentucky Crafted: The Market in 1996. Through the years, it has remained a major tool for advancing the Kentucky Craft Marketing program’s mission to coordinate the development, marketing and promotion of the commonwealth’s crafts industry.
In 2010, 600 buyers from 16 states attended the wholesale show, while 8,000 shoppers purchased handmade merchandise on public days. Vendor sales reports estimated total wholesale and retail sales combined at nearly $1 million.
“Some artists just work this one show and take enough orders to stay home the rest of the year,” Haddock said. “They get to create their art, fill their orders and ship them off to buyers, knowing they can pay the bills, just like normal working people.”
This year, KCTM expects some 220 vendors. The more than 140 Kentucky Crafted registered artists will be joined by juried craftspeople from seven nearby states. All exhibiting craftspeople must be members of Kentucky Craft Marketing, which judges all work on quality and originality, and traditional crafts on authenticity. The program offers members basic marketing orientation, including customer service, pricing, booth design, et al.
To offset the possibility that big-time buyers might hesitate to attend a relatively small, one-state market, the event in 1997 added a “Fly the Buyer” program, which covers airfare and expenses for national retail purchasers.
“Kentucky was the first state in the nation to produce this kind of arts marketing event,” Haddock said. “We’ve had 21 other states and a few counties come in to learn our program. It’s an important model because the economic impact from arts and crafts has been phenomenal. And that, in turn, is a draw for big industry. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Check out Kentucky Crafted: The Market’s amazing lineup and download a coupon worth $3 off admission at www.kycraft.ky.gov.