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On a rainy Saturday morning, artists and their wares huddled under white canopied tents at the Evanston Farmers’ Market. Bright conversation and laughter cut through the wind as vendors helped each other hang tarps, reposition racks and stay dry.
These artists are all a part of HomeGrown Artists, a showcase for Evanston artists to display and sell their work at the Farmers’ Market. The event spotlights locally produced goods, so participation is limited to Evanston residents, employees of Evanston businesses and participants at Evanston studios and galleries. HomeGrown Artists got its start in 2005, when Emily Guthrie was inspired by an art show she visited in Santa Fe with her daughter. “We went to their farmers’ market, then the artists’ market, which is huge. After about 20 minutes of looking around, I stopped in my tracks and asked why we weren’t doing it in Evanston,” Ms. Guthrie said.
Upon her return, Ms. Guthrie worked with then-Mayor Lorraine Morton and then-Assistant City Manager Judy Aiello to launch a pilot program, and two years ago, HomeGrown Artists became an official offering of the Evanston Farmers’ Market. The event is now managed by Zollie Webb, special events coordinator with the City of Evanston. He explained that HomeGrown Artists exhibit at the Farmers’ Market six times a year, and each artist pays $60 per space per day. “We generally slip in a few more, because we always have a few folks that are no-shows,” said Mr. Webb.
Typically, the Evanston Farmers’ Market is abuzz with activity, but the gray fall weather on this particular Saturday appears to have kept some patrons away. Even so, the weather was not enough to stop Timi Papas from setting up shop. Ms. Papas makes jewelry pouches out of silver cloth that prevents tarnish. “Traffic is usually wonderful, but not when it’s pouring rain,” laughed Ms. Papas. Despite the precipitation, Ms. Papas’ enthusiasm was still evident. “I’m just delighted that Evanston has this local market.”
Meredith Rogowski is the owner of the Purple Pea (www.purple-pea.com ), which sells personalized kids’ t-shirts and baby gifts. She has participated in HomeGrown Artists for the last four years. “The Evanston arts community is like a little family, and everyone kind of knows each other,” Ms. Rogowski said. “What I like about the farmers’ market is that it brings us all together. It’s a venue for all the vendors to hang out and chat. And if you don’t make any sales, it’s still fun.”
In 2005, a survey funded by the Illinois Arts Council and the Evanston Community Foundation found that Evanston has ten times the national average of artists living and working in the City. During the year of the survey, the artists generated $25 million in the Evanston economy.
Standing dapper, yet a little damp in a dignified black bowler hat, Omni Mee braved the Saturday morning rain to display his chain maille jewelry. It was his first time participating in the HomeGrown Artists showcase. Even so, Mr. Mee agreed that the market’s focus on locally produced goods was one that should be preserved. “Once you allow vendors in from farther away, like Iowa or Indiana, you lose some of the local charm,” Mr. Mee explained. “And you also run the risk of people bringing in mass-produced goods. People come here because they want the best, they want to buy stuff you can’t get at the grocery store or the mall.”
This year, Mr. Webb would like to see a holiday festival featuring local artists. “We want artists to have an opportunity to offer their goods as holiday gifts. We’re still working on the date, but we’d like to do it at the Ecology Center. We’d have the fireplace, some holiday music — that’s what we’re working on.
“Evanston has a very vital and active art scene within itself, so I don’t think there will be a problem keeping it local,” Mr. Mee said.