New street fair format a hit with artisans, patrons

From a patron's point of view, Homewood's first Artisan Street Fair was a cornucopia of creativity and ingenuity. 

Booths lined Martin Avenue and Hickory Road with "cool stuff" — that was the name of Allison Burnett's booth at the corner of Martin and Hickory — made of myriad materials: clay, wood, metal, fabric and paper.

Across the street from Burnett's booth was Larry Van Heel, a regular vendor at Homewood's farmers market. He specializes in uniquely repurposed household items. On Saturday one eye-catching product was a lamp made from a gumball machine/piggy bank. 

From the organizers' perspective, the street fair on Friday and Saturday was "awesome." That was the first word from Homewood Events Manager Allisa Opyd and artisan curators Lisa Komorowski and Dodi Wians to describe the reconceived spring festival.

"I'm just blown away," Opyd said. "I feel we've turned a major corner in Homewood."

Opyd said based on the count conducted by members of the village Community Relations Committee and on her experience from past events, at least 5,000 people attended the event.

By late Saturday afternoon, Opyd was even moved to call the day "perfect."  The morning was wet and one musical act was cancelled for safety reasons, but the turnout improved as the skies turned sunny.

Even during drizzly periods, people came out  —  umbrellas in hand — to shop the artisan booths, enjoy live music, family activities and food. The turnout of both artisans and shoppers far exceeded organizers' expectations.

Komorowski, who granted an interview while taking bottled water around to each vendor Friday afternoon, said the planning team had hoped to double the number of booths from last year's Art & Garden Street Fair, which had about 25 artisans. 

The fair this year had 90.

Opyd attributed the results to Wians and Komorowski. Their shop, Loulou Belle, is an artisan-oriented boutique on Ridge Road in Homewood. The partners also opened a new shop in Frankfort just a few weeks ago.

"They work with so many artisans in their shop. They were able to cast a wider net" than the village typically can, she said.

Komorowski said she and Wians just kept putting the word out at every event they attended in recent months. Their networking apparently worked.

The partnership between the village and the shop owners evolved out of conversations at Homewood Business Association meetings, Komorowski said. Wians and Komorowski eventually decided to approach the village with an offer to help reframe the focus of the event.

Opyd said the village welcomed the ideas and the opportunity to rethink the event. 

"It was time to shake it up," she said.

In the partnership, the village remained responsible for the festival infrastructure, including food and music arrangements. Wians and Komorowski recruited and supported the artisans.

For about 10 years, the village's spring festival was called Art & Garden. 

Greenery was still in evidence, even though the priorities of the event have shifted. Zeldenrust Farms anchored the east end of Hickory Road near Dixie Highway with a big display of flowers and other plants.

Most of the vendors, though, offered works made by hand, from Dak Inspired clay earrings to Annie Lawrence's O, Pines Design rustic wood frames and electrocuted art. Lawrence, of Homewood, creates designs on wood by zapping it with enough electricity to etch intricate grooves that she accentuates with colored stains.

Opyd said the turnout was given a boost by the village's recently launched marketing campaign, Think Homewood, which targets young families in several Chicago neighborhoods. 

The campaign has gotten national media attention for its use of comic-book style storytelling. 

The event has always attracted visitors from the area, but Opyd said she thought there were more this year, and she heard comments from patrons referencing the Think Homewood campaign. 

The artist for the campaign, Marc Alan Fishman, sold Think Homewood posters from the booth he and his partner, Matt Wright, ran to support their comic art business, Unshaven Comics. Fishman said proceeds from the poster sales will be donated to local school art programs.

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