It’s no secret that Utah — the land of self-sufficiency — is full of crafty people.
Speaking purely from statistics, Utahns love crafts and do-it-yourself projects. When Pinterest launched in 2011, major traffic didn’t come from California and Texas, the two most social media aware states. Instead, most Pinterest visits — nearly 5 percent — came from Utah. In 2013, Utah became home to the world’s first Pinners Conference, a convention for DIY-lovers to meet and participate in classes. Now, that conference has expanded to Georgia, Texas and Arizona as well. Altogether, Utah hosts more than 60 craft fairs for artisans in and outside the state.
Utah’s crafting community has grown in the past several years, said Craft Lake City executive director Angela H. Brown, but it’s been difficult to help both makers and locals recognize the value in Utah’s art scene. Craft Lake City is a local nonprofit that aims to empower the arts and crafts community of the Beehive State. Part of their contribution comes in the form of the Craft Lake City DIY Festival this weekend, Aug. 11-13, at the Gallivan Center.
“We have this incredible craft community,” Brown said, “but at the same time, I think we get a bad rap. And maybe that’s about the actual artistic value we have here. I think we have a community that fosters (arts and crafts) and supports that, but I don’t know if we necessarily recognize our value in that area. So that’s part of what we’re about is valuing the work of the individuals in our community that’s just as incredible, if not even better, than what’s coming out of San Francisco and New York City and Los Angeles.”
Some of the factors devaluing Utah’s crafting community may be the same components that led to its growth in the first place, said Kelly Sansom, a jewelry maker from North Salt Lake.
“In Utah, I feel like we’re taught that we do things ourselves,” she said. “And sometimes that’s a bad thing for someone like me, who makes a product. … We’re kind of cheaper here. I have necklaces that I sell here and on my website for $30, but that same necklace, if a store buys it, could sell for $50 and people wouldn’t even bat an eye. I think we are do-it-yourselfers, and I don’t know if we put as much value in other people’s creations because we think, ‘Oh, I could do that.’”
Utahns are often quick to pick up crafts like sewing, cooking and carpentry — skills that could enable someone to support an individual or a family in times of hardship. But they’re also skills that have fostered the growth of an extensive crafting community. Artisans like Samson, who once perhaps made homemade crafts as a hobby, are now turning to craft fairs and internet shops to sell their creations.
“I think it’s kind of a surprise to people how many makers there are in the Salt Lake Valley and down in Utah County,” said Amy Timmerman, a Salt Lake City resident who runs an Etsy store called The Bees Knees Shoppe. “There are a lot of small business owners. I know some of the bigger market fairs or craft shows, if you will, have a lot of Utah presence in them, like up at the Swiss Days in Midway. On a bigger scale, even, is the Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas. They have an event twice a year and there’s a pretty strong Utah presence there.”
The business challenges Utah’s do-it-yourself culture creates, though, have not produced the type of dog-eat-dog market one might expect. Utah values are a benefit within the local crafting community, even if they can be a hindrance outside of it.
“I think Utah is known for serving others and for wanting to help other people,” Timmerman said. “And I think the maker community locally does that. We build each other up. We share each other’s events or items. … There’s a lot of collaborating going on, and people are happy to do that. They want everybody to do well, because it means they do well. I think that’s something that’s pretty unique to Utah.”
For better and worse, local values make Utah an unusual place to do business. But overall, that’s a positive thing, Brown said.
“We’ve got the Utah brand on things, and we just do everything a little bit differently here,” she said, “which I think is a benefit.”
If you go …
What: Craft Lake City DIY Festival
When: Friday, Aug. 11, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 12, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 13, noon-7 p.m.
Where: Gallivan Center, 239 Main St.
How much: $5-$25