Bucktown Bazaar: the Art of Community

I remember when Bucktown was a funky place of run-down houses with terrific foundational bones, lots of fringe activity -- read nude performance art-- and a reputation as being semi-dangerous. It was common to hear gunshots at night or on a mid-day walk see a dirty hand of a drug addict push back a worn curtain from the window of a mansion turned slum. Still my artist friends gave me good reason to go there. They had settled in Bucktown because housing was a deal and the antiquity fostered an atmosphere of experimentation. They built a community in Bucktown that was strong and unified by their passion for creativity.

In Bucktown Wicker Park today, the sounds and sights of poverty are rare and the funk has been spit-polished and tidied. But the people who settled the neighborhood in the 70s, 80s and 90s are keeping Bucktown's homespun tradition of supporting artists and the arts going, despite tight wallets in a down economy and intense market pressures that are pushing money from the ground onto the Internet.

One person doing this work is my friend Maria Mariottini. I first met Maria when she was a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute in the late 70s. We were kids and had lots of fun times together --  many of them involved food and Holly-Go-Lightly Cocktail parties. She was the first of many artist friends who introduced me to a world of light, paint and canvas, of working with your eyes and hands with a fine touch to create something new from your inner sight that could be enjoyed by others. I was mystified and enchanted. Was it really possible that art could escape its glass cages and white stone buildings and instead exist on a neighborhood street, where I could pick it up, hold it, buy it and bring it home to enjoy forever? And in doing so could I directly help an artist make a living?

It turns out art can exist in your neighborhood and in your home. And art can earn you a living. I first learned these truths from my friend Maria when she became an early founder of the Bucktown Arts Fest. Today the Arts Fest continues its work in the summer and Maria's Grazia Productions has founded the Bucktown Bazaar, a curated show that taps into the holiday spending frenzy and harnesses that good will for artists and crafts people who live in our region and create from their hearts so we can take little pieces of that love home.

I talked with Maria over a bowl of paella at her Bucktown home recently about the Bucktown Bazaar. Hear part of this interview and see some of the goods for sale from Bazaars past.

Mariottini: The two things that are important to me are community and the arts. This is a perfect combination of both those things.

I am committed to the community. I ran the Bucktown Arts Fest for 20 years. I feel I helped build this neighborhood because I gave people an event to go to that they now look forward to and it included art. So it was perfect because it included both those things.

So this show in the Holstein Park Field House is continuation of those values that are important to me.

Me: Has the arts community in this neighborhood changed?

Maria: There is no arts community in this neighborhood. The artists in the show are coming from all over. They are coming Lake Geneva, Skokie, Pilsen. They are coming from all over.

Me: Did it used to be much more centered here in Bucktown?

Maria: When I first started with the Arts Fest it was. But it has not been like that for a long time. It's different now. Now I am bringing the artists to the community, instead of giving the artists in the community a platform.

Me: So you used to create a platform for the artists in the community to showcase the stuff they did -- but now the people in the community are not necessarily the makers of the art. They are people who can buy and support the arts. So it's a different dynamic.

Maria: Yes, absolutely. And they are happy because I am bringing the arts here for them. So it still serves the community but in a different kind of way. So it is still very satisfying for me.

Me: One of the appeals of this neighborhood has always been that it's got this edge, this hipness. It was a place where artists settled. So the remnants of that remain. And the people who are here now can celebrate that even though they might not be the creators themselves.

Maria: That is correct.

Me: Have the buying tastes changed? Have the kinds of vendors changed?

Maria: The artists have changed. Everything changes all the time and these artists are all at different points in their career so that cycles through all the time too. There's always people going out and people coming in -- there's this constant stream of artists at different points in their career. That happens. That's part of the formula.

That being said the economy is so bad... before the artists would do all the shows. Even if they weren't making too much money at one or the other. It was a numbers game. It was marketing. It would just build. It would be common even if they did not make any money at a show someone who saw their work would call them two weeks later.

Since people are spending less and less money at these events, the artists have to be more careful about the shows they can participate in because they want to see the results immediately.

They become more strategic because no shows are making money. Everybody is stretched.

Me: What is the strategic advantage of doing your show?

Maria: I have trained the community to know about the arts.

They count on me to bring some artists to them, and I am happy to do that. They are happy to spend money, In fact one year I remember an artist said to me this is the only show I have ever done where a ten year old will come through with $50 to buy gifts for his parents and his siblings.

So there is money in the neighborhood and they are happy to spend it.

The Bucktown Bazaar is a curated show and artists can still apply to participate. The show is the weekend after Thanksgiving, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Holstein Park Field House. If you are a creator of art you can have a booth there for a miniscule fee. If you are a lover of beautiful things, head on on over to enjoy custom made art, accessories and crafts. Send your friends to the Bucktown Bazaar Slideshow on YouTube, and visit the Bucktown Bazaar's Facebook page.