Keeping it Local at the East Austin Handmade Arts Market

Written by Brooke Wilton

I’ve been a local artist for over 30 years now, originally hailing from Houston where I attended the High School For The Performing and Visual Arts, and then here as I studied Art, Film, and Creative Writing at UT.  Let me back up though, because as a kid I spent the better part of my childhood here in the 70’s, and this is what led me back to this place; a nostalgia for the sleepy hippy town that we used to be.  Even as a kid I knew who Jim Franklin was, and that the Armadillo World Headquarters was the place to see live music.  We lived a stone’s throw from Barton Springs, and when we weren’t there, my brother and I lounged on the South Mall of the UT campus while our mother worked on her dissertation.

Nearly four years ago I started Flameless Shirt when I realized people were more interested in the custom shirts I was designing and wearing than in my art and photography.  Though I also had a brief stint fronting a local band called Dwarf Nebula, this is finally the medium that has allowed me to leave the corporate world behind for good (where I had been working full-time as a computer professional for decades).

Now as a professional artist, I make my living by selling my handmade shirts on the internet and at local area art fairs and shows, including the Cherrywood Art Fair, the Violet Crown Arts Festival, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, and the West and East Austin Studio Tours, to name a few.  For over 3 years I had been also selling my shirts most weekends in the SoCo area of Austin, but at the beginning of this year, something shifted for me.  The over-crowding and commercialization of the South Congress area just became intolerable, and I began to look for a new place to show my work.

I have been a friend of the VORTEX for several years now, regularly attending their theatrical events and participating in the annual Yule Bazaar, which is an art fair held on the last weekend before Christmas.  In the past several years, I have spent a lot more time on the East side of town than in the past (since I moved out of South Austin) and I have noticed that the neighborhood has a lot of quirky Austin character about it that I love.  Unlike in other parts of the city, this seems to actually be increasing here instead of becoming more homogenized.  You have sculpture installations in people’s front yards, yarn-bombing of street signs happening, more grass-roots murals going up, and other indications of an artistic coolness that seems to be thriving over here.  And Manor Road has a lot more foot traffic than ever before, with local bars and restaurants springing up left and right.  All of this informed me that the time was right to start a new outdoor market here.  I’d never done anything like this before, but heck, it needed to be done, and when has that ever stopped me?

So I had a meeting with the VORTEX director Bonnie Cullum and her staff and they agreed that the time was right to try a weekly outdoor arts market here, and they graciously lent their space to allow me to make it happen.  Now we have over 100 local artists who have been accepted for participation, rotating in and out as their schedules allow, and a regular group of musicians who have come out to provide the right atmosphere. So far, it’s really been a nice relaxed and fun environment, far from the push and shove of the denser areas of town.

More importantly, the neighborhood has really been supportive, with fine artists doing a lot better here than in the touristy areas of town, which I think speaks volumes about the potential here.  It’s not just people in town for some conference, trying to grab a little piece of Austin on their way to somewhere else.  It’s Austin folks supporting home-grown art and fun right here in their neighborhood.  I think this is what Austin is really all about.  See you Saturday!

The East Austin Handmade Arts Market at The VORTEX is open from 11am to 4pm at the front parking lot of The VORTEX Theater, 2307 Manor Rd. Austin, TX 78722. The market features creations in a wide variety of art mediums, all handmade locally, and appropriate for all ages. The Butterfly Bar and Patrizi’s Food Truck have extended their hours to serve folks a special brunch line of delicious food items and drinks all day on Saturdays. South Star of Texas are providing locally raised natural meat, as well as locally grown natural produce and seasonal fruit. (This week it’s strawberries!) There is live music scheduled from 12-2pm every Saturday from local performing talent, and admission is always free. For more information, or if you are interested in becoming a vendor, please visit our website.

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