By Sue Botos
Avant-Garde Art & Craft Shows are definitely not your mother’s quilting bee.
Started by 27-year-old Becki Cooper in June 2011 as a way for entrepreneurs to showcase their handmade wares and network, the shows have become quickly growing local events. Shoppers can choose from a variety of fun and funky items ranging from repurposed furniture, paintings and jewelry made from vintage pieces, to photography and food.
With a background in public relations, Cooper has always had an interest in crafts, often attending shows with her mother. She eventually got into cake decorating and began doing shows part time while working full time.
During this time, she had the opportunity to network with other crafters who were working and doing shows on the weekends. When Cooper was laid off from her advertising agency job, she decided to pursue a new career, hosting the shows full time, and Avant-Garde was born. She has also launched her own marketing communications company, Rebecca Adele PR & Events.
“I think there are two distinct trends I see with our shows. There are the artists that have been fortunate enough to make this their full-time career from the beginning, and then there are those doing this for extra income while employed full time,” Cooper stated. She added that many of her vendors have created their businesses as a way to help pay the bills, and have ended up with new careers.
While her vendor list in 2011 consisted of 45 artists, it has since grown to 1,500 vendors who participate in up to 10 shows per year.
Not only are the items offered at the shows different from the usual craft show fare, but Cooper’s marketing technique is also a sign of the times. She often finds her vendors on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as blogs.
Aside from providing a venue for local artists to sell their work, Cooper said portions of all proceeds are donated to charities such as the Cleveland APL, Make-A-Wish and Stewart’s Caring Place. Each show supports a specific cause.
Cooper said that the beneficiary of the next show, scheduled for Rocky River Memorial Hall on Saturday and Sunday, will be Project Night Night (www.projectnightnight.org), which provides care packages for children “between homes.”
Both veteran and new vendors are looking forward to the show as a way to showcase their work in an enjoyable setting. Alyssa Kyle of “Alyssa’s Cupcake Confections” is a self-taught cook who started her business five years ago. “This will be my second Avant-Garde show. We were in last summer’s in Westlake and loved it. We sold out before the end of the day. Becki Cooper’s shows are wonderful,” she stated.
Newcomer Roseanne Demkowicz of Restorations by Roseanne also anticipates a good experience. “This will be my first Avante-Garde show, but I’ve heard great things about the shows and I’m really looking forward to being a part of it,” she noted.
The shows are not for ladies only. David Simon, a freelance illustrator and writer, who has been drawing and designing professionally since his late teens, said, “This will be my third show, and I’m looking forward to experience the first two-day show.”
“There’s definitely something to be said when you feel like you are in charge of your own economic fate,” Cooper said. “My hope is by offering these types of events, these entrepreneurial-spirited artists and crafters can have the same freedom.”
The next Avante-Garde Art & Craft Show will take place March 23 and 24 at Rocky River Memorial Hall, 21016 Hilliard Blvd., and will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Nearly 100 juried artists and crafters will be featured. Admission is $3 for adults and free for children under 12. There will also be a concession stand on-site provided by The Arc of Summit and Portage Counties, with all of those proceeds going to The Arc.
For more information on vendors, visit the Avant-Garde website at www.avantgardeshows.com. To learn more, visit Twitter @AvantGardeShows or Facebook at Avant-Garde Art & Craft Shows (Rebecca Adele Events), and also Pinterest and LinkedIn.