The twinkle of festive lights decorating downtown Montreal is a sign that stores will soon be overcrowded with shoppers in search of gifts for family and friends. As an alternative to this pre-holiday tradition, McGill’s Local Artists Market on Nov. 21 provides an opportunity to buy gifts you probably won’t be able to find in the mall.
Organized by the Market Cooperative and the McGill Farmers’ Market, Thursday’s market will take place in the SSMU Ballroom and will feature around 44 vendors showcasing and selling their work.
About half the expected vendors are students, and the rest are people from the Montreal community. Vendors will sell everything from photography and homemade candles and soaps, to jewelry and locally produced tea and food. Local bands will also provide live entertainment.
“The idea is to really bring people like McGill students, the Montreal community, musicians, artists, sort of everyone together into a community space where goods [are available],” Market Cooperative Co-founder Sam Gregory said. “People can find things for around the house, for Christmas, [and] for the holidays.”
Gregory and co-founder Amelia Brinkerhoff started the Market Cooperative in 2012.
“It was a venue that was lacking at McGill to show off [people’s] passions or creative hobbies on the side and really share it with the community,” Gregory said.
He stressed that the Market Cooperative is “not just for the holiday season.” Since their first event in February 2013, Gregory and Brinkerhoff have held several markets to provide opportunities for students and others in the community to share their artistic and creative work.
“Having low table prices mitigates the risk of trying out new ideas and crafts,” said Madeleine Pawlowski, a repeat vendor as part of the jewelry-making sister duo, Les Arts Plastiques. Pawlowski is an Arts student at McGill, while her sister Alicia Pawlowski is a graduate student at the University of Alberta studying pediatrics.
“Market Cooperative is on its way to having a loyal and diverse following, and once it does, it’ll be an excellent testing ground for artists and crafters who want to see if they can make a go for it if there’s a real demand for their products,” Pawlowski said.
For the consumer, the market atmosphere provides an enriching and cost-effective shopping experience with the organizers bringing in reasonably priced vendors who aim to meet student interests.
“[A student] could go to Urban Outfitters and buy something there that’s 50 or 60 bucks, or they could come to the market and get something that’s locally produced, supporting the local economy and the community,” Gregory said. “It’s going to be more sustainable because it’s made in local places, not being shipped […] and it’s going to be more affordable, too.”
On a broader community level, the founders hope to better connect McGill with the rest of the Montreal community.
“It’s giving that opportunity to create a sense of belonging in the city and interact,” Gregory said. “Markets are a great place for people to come together. [Market-goers] spend half an hour walking around and they’ll see friends and they’ll chat.”
Pawlowski noted the more practical advantages of the markets for vendors.
“[Bringing] together the McGill crafters and Montreal ones […] fosters a connection between both communities, and [they can] share their experiences and knowledge of ‘what works’ in the handmade world,” she said.
Despite their plans for two upcoming markets in the Winter semester, the cooperative currently faces several challenges because they do not fit into SSMU’s framework due to their current operational structure. The non-profit organization generates revenue through the sale of tables to the vendors, of which a small portion goes towards a stipend for the four main organizers.
“Because of that, we can’t be a student club and there [are] a lot of barriers,” Gregory said. “[SSMU] is not supporting us being an [Independent Student Group], or seeing value in us. That’s been one of the biggest frustrations for us, [since] we’re paying $800 for the ballroom [….] Every market, we’re just trying to cover the cost.”
Internal groups, such as student clubs and Independent Student Groups, receive priority room booking in the SSMU Building, and do not have to pay for the rent. Since the Market Cooperative is an external group they have to pay rent for the ballroom, which means they have no money leftover to help the initiative grow.
According to Gregory, the Market Cooperative is not looking to become a student club because the associated bureaucracy would unnecessarily complicate the market’s operation. They hope to find a way to move past these hurdles—for example, by negotiating a lower rental fee.
“We’d like to see a compromise so we can pay half price,” Gregory said. “$400 less is $400 more we can put into the market to help it grow.”
McGill’s Local Artists Market takes place Thursday, Nov. 21 in the SSMU Ballroom at 11 a.m.-6 p.m.