Crafting a new kind of art sale

Provided by Tammy Sutherland

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, local art fair CRAFTED is shifting to an online format. The sale will run from Nov. 6 to 8 and feature artists and artisans from Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Tammy Sutherland, director of the Manitoba Craft Council (MCC), said while the loss of CRAFTED’s usual format is not ideal, an online sale was the best option.

“At this point it was go online or no sale,” Sutherland said.

“Many of our members who work with commercial sales and production work, they’re really so dependent on holiday revenues.

“Most of their revenue of sales would come in this period. So if there was nothing to replace it — to us, we just couldn’t entertain that option if there was an option to try an alternative.”

Sutherland also discussed the flexibility the new format offers. Shoppers are not limited to specific opening hours, artists can reach consumers all over the region instead of just in Winnipeg and the MCC has relished the chance to connect more closely with artists. Then, of course, there’s COVID-19.

“I think for us it’s really about allowing people that opportunity to buy local and support local craftspeople without feeling like they’re endangering their health or the health of the vendors,” she said.

In April, the Royal Bison Art and Craft Fair in Edmonton, Alta. successfully made the jump to an online format, and the organizers agreed to partner with Sutherland and the MCC to assist with technology.

“Neither [the MCC nor the WAG] were set up to do that,” Sutherland said.

“The WAG has their Inuit centre opening, and we have very limited staff at the craft council, so we hired Royal Bison to do the tech. That, for us, has been so seamless and simple because Royal Bison is, and the woman we’re working with there, Vikki [Wiercinski], is so completely skilled and she understands the nuances of Shopify and also is an artist herself and has worked with this kind of sale for the last 10 years.”

With Wiercinski’s help, even vendors with no previous online experience have set up sites to sell their work. Sutherland said CRAFTED is a great opportunity for people who were on the fence or who felt intimidated at the prospect to explore the potential of an online shop with Wiercinski and the MCC ready to offer assistance.

“In a way, it’s given people the impetus to try online sales, and it’s also giving them the support they need,” Sutherland explained.

“And then after the sale, they’ll be able to download the Shopify accounts and use them for their own personal shop if they so desire, so we see it as a little bit of professional development for people.”

Even with all the focus on Shopify and Etsy, Sutherland took a moment to remember how different digital sales used to be.

“When I joined the craft council on staff, they really wanted to go online with a shop and the process was so onerous that in the end we couldn’t overcome the obstacles,” she said.

“Twelve years ago, when we were trying to do this, the interface was set up […] where literally for each item you added there was 15 pages of documents to go through before checking off. It was cuckoo.

“And so obviously things have changed immensely and it’s amazing how it’s a lot of work, but it’s not frustrating work.”