HandMADE Montana to partner with Missoula County Fairgrounds for new summer event

HandMADE Montana organizers Courtney Blazon, left, and Carol Lynn Lapotka announce a new partnership with the Western Montana Fair over a live Facebook stream on Monday. The partnership is expected to expand the MADE fair’s reach and boost attendance to the summer fair. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Looking to expand its audience and promote the work of its artists, HandMADE Montana will partner with the Missoula County Fairgrounds during the weeklong Western Montana Fair this year, the organizers said Monday.

On a set that resembled “Hee-Haw,” organizers Carol Lynn Lapotka and Courtney Blazon said the new event will feature 65 daily artists, as well as an artist-in-residence and local nonprofits.

“All of our events have a huge impact on the local artist community,” said Lapotka, the event’s founder. “Every holiday event brings in over $300,000 for the one-day show, and that directly goes into the artists’ pockets.”

The financial impacts of the annual holiday show are expected expand across the full week when the Western Montana Fair opens its gates in August. The MADE Fair serves as the state’s largest arts and crafts market, featuring the work of several hundred artists.

“It’s amazing how sometimes short events can bring in big bucks at the end of the year for the holiday event,” said Lapotka. “We’re excited to be able to offer a multi-day event for the artists to show their wares and sustain their living.”

The Missoula MADE Fair made its debut in December 2007 after Lapotka and Angie Oakins saw the need for an alternative arts and crafts market. The original fair opened with 18 artists on the second floor of an old Higgins Avenue restaurant.

The event has grown ever since, with the annual holiday show now held at the Adams Center on the University of Montana campus serving as the marquee attraction. A show in Helena was added last year.

With their new partnership with the Missoula County Fairgrounds, organizers and artists expect to expand their reach and their sales. For some artisans, the shows provide a boost in income, which isn’t insignificant when viewed on a statewide level.

One recent study found that Montana artists generate more than $28 million in annual sales, with more than $21 million coming from outside the state. The sales create additional jobs and spending in non-art related businesses.

“It’s great to have another venue to show our handmade wares, but at an event that’s already so established,” said Blazon, a well-known Missoula artist. “ A lot of people who wouldn’t go to the MADE Fair are going to be coming through and may be exposed to a different kind of craft, and that’s really exciting.”

While the weeklong summer show is expected to benefit western Montana’s artists, it may also draw a diversified crowd to the Western Montana Fair. The fair waived admission fees last year for the first time and saw attendance jump to more than 86,000 visitors.

It’s working on new ways to continue that growth and cater to a wider range of interests.

“The MADE Fair attracts people from across all demographics,” said fairgrounds director Emily Bentley. “It definitely makes us more relevant to people interested in handmade products. Our partnerships with local nonprofits are also important to us, and we’re working with some other nonprofits and maybe we’ll be announcing those in the coming weeks.”

In addition to featuring artists, organizers said they’ll host three additional booths, including a local nonprofit, an artist-in-residence and a make-and-take zone.

“It’s just a really unique thing to bring to the fair, and it really supports the artist,” said Commissioner Jean Curtiss. “There might be someone who has been doing things in the basement that decides to come out and do this.”