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Connecting artists to opportunity

817 Arts Alliance blends entrepreneurship with artisanship

As you stroll through the Texas Christkindl Market in Arlington, you’ll see an impressive variety of items for sale. Hand-knit scarves, crèches made of olive tree wood, authentic German ornaments, one-of-a-kind watches, and fur hats from Alaska are among the unique finds. But when you spot the hut with the large “happy holidays” sign, make a special point to stop, say hello and shop. The art and artisans within have roots in Downtown Arlington.

Building a community of artists

In 2011, four leaders of an independent Etsy team were working together to create vending opportunities for local artisans. They discovered that they needed to form a business entity through which to organize their efforts, and 817 Arts Alliance was the result.

“We held our first big holiday show in Downtown at the UTA Maverick Activities Center,” said Cathy Stein, founder of 817 Arts Alliance. Quickly it became apparent that new enterprise required singular focus, “so in 2012,” said Stein, “I became the sole member of 817 Arts Alliance, LLC.”

Finding artist-centric, entrepreneurial opportunities may have been the foundation of 817 Arts Alliance, but not its entire purpose. “I also wanted to make it more about connecting people in the area to the arts and sciences in more ways,” Stein said. She established a blog, which has become a comprehensive hub for information exchange and resources.

Setting up shop in Downtown

After 817 Arts Alliance hosted a second holiday show at the MAC in 2012, Stein kept her eyes open for ways to build a more substantial presence in Downtown. Meanwhile, DAMC provided some sponsorship and advertising support to the group.

“817 Arts Alliance is about attracting creatives, empowering artists and engendering opportunity,” said Tony Rutigliano, president and CEO of DAMC. “This is entrepreneurship at its finest and precisely the kind of efforts we want to nurture in Downtown.”

Because of her familiarity with the Arlington Museum of Art, Stein approached Chris Hightower, executive director of the museum, with an idea. What if, she asked, the museum included some work by local artisans in its new gift store?

“Chris suggested widening my proposal to include an artisan gift store during the 2013 Festival of Trees,” Stein said, “along with a gift market weekend and artist demonstrations on the other weekends of the exhibit.”

The concept continued to evolve, and as it did, the Happy Holidays Gift Market enjoyed an increase in sales the second year over the first. Additionally, through the exposure gained through the market, one of the participating artists was invited to show in the museum’s rooftop gallery alongside the Vivian Maier photography exhibition in the main galleries.

In the heart of Downtown Arlington, 817 Arts Alliance was fulfilling its mission of connecting artists to opportunity and building community.

Fifteen artists under one roof

As Hightower and Stein looked ahead to the 2016 holiday season, it became apparent that the space requirements of the Pablo Picasso: Ceramics winter exhibition would prohibit the return of the 817 Arts Alliance market.

“I kept my eyes open once more for an appropriate opportunity to bring local artisans' work to appreciative customers,” Stein said. “After continued dialogue with the event team at the Arlington Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and the willingness of fellow artist Cynthia Brinson to join me, I decided to take a leap of faith and move the Happy Holidays market to a hut at the Texas Christkindl Market.”

The Happy Holidays Gift Market at Christkindl, which is open through December 23, features the original work of 14 local artisans and one fair-trade artist group (artist bios can be found here). Mediums include woodworking, jewelry, pottery, photography, sculpture and much more. Most pieces are one of a kind, and new works will be added throughout the run of the festival.

“We’ve already received great feedback from many Christkindl visitors,” said Stein. “One customer who visited on opening day came back a day later and shared how much her husband loved the pair of earrings she had purchased. People enjoy the opportunity to support local artisans and find unique gifts for those on their shopping lists and for themselves.”

Get social

We’d love to see what you discovered at the Happy Holiday Gift Market! Use @817Arts, @txchristkindl and #authenticallyArlington as you post about your favorite 817 Arts Alliance artist or artwork.

About Downtown Arlington

Recently designated an official Cultural District by the Texas Commission on the Arts, Downtown Arlington, Texas blends a unique mix of activities, sights, tastes and sounds that attract visitors and locals alike. Within its less than a two-mile radius, Downtown is home to a top-tier public university, prolific fine and performing artists and arts institutions, live entertainment, exciting NCAA and professional athletics, one-of-a-kind dining and retail, and a supportive business climate. Downtown Arlington brings together a plethora of cultures and inspirations with a character all its own.