Thursday, October 16, 2014

The RNEST Art Cart

Written by: John Ballou of JackBear Stamps (this article appeared on his blog on 10/7/15)

Imagine an artisan of old pushing around a cart from village to village full of his handmade wares. He peddles the treasures to welcoming faces who have never seen the likes inside the borders of that their town. Screeeeeeeech!  Wait, that isn't how this is supposed to start.

The story begins with an opportunity.  At the University of Rochester the student commons is called  Wilson Commons. Within the depths of the bottom floor lies a candy counter that sells candy by the bulk, as well as house made fudge, called the Common Market.  It is run by the Student Activities Office, which in full disclosure, is where my wife works (the office, not the counter).

The Student Activities Office had an idea to sell some items by outside vendors in a cart to be built next to the Common Market.  The cart was built to look like... well, like a cart.  It has wheels (though flat now), doors, and even lights.  First it was originally designed to sell plants, then imported hats, scarves, and mittens.  Those early vendors blazed the trail, ran the risks, but couldn't sustain.

Enter the idea.  What if the cart could sell handmade goods by local artists and craftspeople ?  I'm not sure who's idea it was, perhaps it was the Student Activities Office fearless leader Anne-Marie Algier.  Maybe it was the ever professional Laura Ballou (yes, that's my wife).  Or was it the cart's current supervisor, Michael Dedes.  Let's give them all credit.

Who could provide such handmade goods?  Who could work on such a small scale?  Who could bring enlightenment to the darkness?  Sorry.... getting carried away.

Along comes a man who knows a few people who could be of service.  Let's call him Jack.  Jack is a member of a group of local heroes artists who call themselves the Rochester NY Etsy Street Team (RNEST). The group is very diverse: jewelers, knitters, painters, illustrators, designers, photographers... you name it.  Though diverse, they all share three things in common: 1) they are local 2) they make things by hand 3) they have shops on Jack say's that he could get an artisan to set up in the cart for a month at a time.  They could call it the RNEST Art Cart.

New plexiglass doors were installed, new signs were made, contracts got written and rewritten. The RNEST Art Cart opened in the Fall of 2013. The first year was the trial.  Could this work?  Would there be enough interest?  Jack and Michael tried to pick artisans who might succeed.  Taking into consideration the time of year, students' interests, artisans with adequate inventory.  JackBear Stamps was first, since it would be important to work out some of the early kinks.  Next came Circuit Breaker LabsPapersaurus CreativePure Bodycare Essentials, and DuncanClay.

The first year's trial taught Jack and Michael many lessons.  The successes outweighed the failures, so a second year was planned.  Leading the pack with her incredible letterpress-ed masterpieces was Chris Charles of Fly Rabbit Press.  Jack had hoped for a knitter to provide some warm hats and scarves in October, but he couldn't get one in time.

So coming full circle, back for the month of October 2014, JackBear Stamps will be in the RNEST Art Cart again until October 30th.  To finish off the semester, and throughout the holiday season, the Art Cart will feature Sunshyne Silverware's amazing repurposed jewelry and accessories.

How does the story end?  Will the RNEST Art Cart continue to flourish?  Can they keep local
handmade goods available to the University of Rochester community?  Will the mass produced forces of darkness take over? (Sorry, slipped off the edge there again)

The end is, "To be continued."


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