Art vs. Craft

By - Dec 1st, 2007 02:52 pm

After seven rounds, nationally-recognized Art vs. Craft has become a Milwaukee institution – by way of minimally institutional principles. Also an anomaly: over 75 progressively-minded, “new wave” artists, crafters and designers will be vending their handmade and independent wares – just in time for the holiday feeding frenzy. To be fair, by now we’ve all received wish lists from loved ones, drawn names for the office gift exchange and hung a few eager-to-be-stuffed stockings; pumping money into the community by supporting local creators seems to be the least damning approach to fulfilling these consumerist customs.

There’s been a growing push to “buy American” for the past few years, but Art vs. Craft’s founder, Faythe Levine, continues to deepen the philosophy: buy local and buy handmade! Recent eco-friendly trendiness is positive, but it’s not nearly enough. Sure, national corporations “have their terrible points and semi-redeemable aspects,” Levine says, but buying locally is just as easy as buying chain in a city like Milwaukee. All year ‘round, area businesses like Future Green, Fashion Ninja, Hotcakes Gallery, Outpost Natural Foods, and Levine’s own Paper Boat Gallery and Boutique serve as alternatives, created to counter mass production and bring consumers closer, if not directly, to the source.

A commitment to buy at least 60% handmade for the holidays is easy to make, too. “It’s a very realistic effort that makes for more unique gifts and supports the arts at the same time,” Levine says. While there will always be exceptions to buying handmade, obviously the more independently-produced and ethically-made goods, the better. “Items that can always be purchased handmade without much thought are cards, stationery, jewelry, accessories and art,” offers Levine. All of which will be prominent, as always, at this month’s round of the biannual Art vs. Craft.

The one-day expo is juried, meaning only top-quality work will be available. The selection jury tends to favor traditional crafts with a modern twist, and though sellers tend to be up-and-coming, 25-to-35-year-old women, the committee “make(s) every effort to make the event approachable to everyone,” says Levine. Handpicked from 200-plus applicants, participants include Emily Kircher of EKRA, “a recycling artist [who] does really well with crochet rag rugs and bottle cap magnets,” multimedia silk-screener Leah Parkhurst of Rustbelt Fiberwerks and Brew City Botanicals, who formulate organic bath and body products. “I hope that there is something appealing to teenagers as well as their grandparents and parents. This is a community event celebrating creativity — there is no demographic when it comes to that!” Art vs. Craft’s hip handicrafts, clothing, toys, and affordable fine art should appeal to men, women, and children alike.

Shoppers should plan for a minimum of two hours, enough time to peruse the dual-level space at Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center, a new location downtown that Levine finds particularly inspiring. The building, home to “amazing art collections, stained glass windows and a downstairs pub,” seems to have met its match. A small food menu will be available, as well as a cash bar and donation-based gift-wrapping. Wrapping proceeds will go toward Levine’s documentary, (Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft & Design,) now in post-production. A clip of the film will be screened at the event.

But wait, there’s more. New Art vs. Craft recruit Cortney Heimerl (of Bay View’s Fasten Collective Co-Op) has organized a winter runway fashion show to christen the new locale. It begins at 5 p.m. and will feature innovative, one-of-a-kind cold-weather wear constructed by both local and out-of-state designers. Levine also hopes to reinstate the “Make and Take” area.

She happily bears the brunt of multiple roles — technical director, cartographer, logistics coordinator and public relations manager at various stages of the event — but without the help of friends with connections and dozens of volunteers, Levine says Art vs. Craft would not be so successful. Not one to be shy about what she needs, Levine suggests that anyone who has time, muscles, or gift-wrapping skills, visit for details about volunteering. VS

Art vs. Craft will be held Saturday, December 8th, 2007 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Adult admission is $3, kids 13 and under get in FREE. The Humphrey Masonic Center is located on the corner of E. Wells and N. Van Buren. Don’t forget that cash is the most (and sometimes only!) acceptable form of payment.

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