Aboriginal marketplace needs your support

Organizers are excited about the Aboriginal Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Marketplace, but not everyone involved is thrilled with how it’s turning out.

The market is a partnership between the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce (ACC) and the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

The ACC is regularly contacted by people looking for different types of artists. The ACC tends to recommend people from their own membership, but were finding that they didn’t have all the types of artists wanted.

“We wanted to create an opportunity to invite [other] artists into the business,” says Jessica Dumas, chair of the ACC.

Everyone who gets involved with the marketplace becomes a member of the ACC.

“It’s really giving these artists an opportunity to raise their profile,” says Dumas.

It was the Downtown BIZ who truly got the ball rolling on the project, though.

Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown BIZ, says he was discussing the importance of culture and understanding others’ cultures with someone at a pow wow. It was there that he realized how much culture the aboriginal community has to share with Winnipeggers.

Once the market started up, he found out how little aboriginal culture most Winnipeggers have experienced.

Grande bought necklaces from a vendor to give out to his children’s classmates. They had not seen anything like them before and were thrilled about the gift.

He says this is a way to show Aboriginal artists that they are welcome in the downtown area.

“We want it to grow organically,” explains Grande. “We want to put out a welcome mat to our Aboriginal artists.”

So far he thinks the market has been a great way to do that. But not all vendors are happy with how things are going.

Métis artist Yvonne Clement has been at the market for two weeks. She has been sewing all her own clothes since the age of 14 and decided to share her craft with others.

Clement says she didn’t have to pay the $50 membership fee to join the ACC the first week she was there, but was told to either pay up, or not set up for her second week.

Because she only made $10 the first week, she had to borrow money from a friend in order to be able to set up again.

Clement says an organizer showed up at the beginning of the market to take her money, but left without making sure she was settled in and if Clement needed anything.

All that she really needs is customers.

“People are not buying anything,” says Clement. “There’s a lot of beautiful products here.”

Clement thinks part of the problem is a lack of promotion. There are no signs up at the market, which is why Clement thinks means many people are just walking by without noticing the market.

She also has not seen promotion outside the market, although she has seen promotional material for the downtown farmers’ market.

“However, we’re happy we’re given this opportunity,” says Clement.

According to her, there aren’t many opportunities for Aboriginal artists in urban settings. Often they are selling their wares at pow wows and other traditional venues.

Clement appreciates the opportunity to display her work in the mainstream setting of Portage Place Shopping Centre.

The market will continue every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Edmonton Court of Portage Place. The vendors would value your support.