It was one of the hottest spring days of the year as the sound of drums filled the air at Highland Square May 26. Local artists and vendors gathered to share an eclectic arrangement of art, food and knitted items with the public.
This marked the third Knitted Neighborhood Artisan Market, a new, traveling market, arranged by Lindsay Millard, Refugee Case Manager at the International Institute of Akron.
“I wanted to create something so that the refugees that we work with could share their art and traditions with the community,” Millard said. “It’s a very intentional community art fair.”
Refugees acclimating to the area have come as far as Bhutan and camps from Nepal and Thailand. “With them being new to the area, it’s so important for them to meet their new neighbors, so why not have a community arts festival where they are able to do that?” Millard said.
The “show” travels to different locations intentionally to spread light on businesses and churches in the area, hoping they’ll support the local art economy, while providing a dependable art show to the community that artists can count on.
The show may be found at a new location every month.
Hope during hard times
“With the tragedies and different things that these people have been through, to be able to still practice this thing that’s very native to them, that’s in their tradition and heritage is incredibly healing in a lot of ways,” Millard explained.
It also provides an income for women who otherwise may not have jobs. Woven in Exile is a particular group of Bhutanese women that sells items at the shows.
Manju Rastogi, a volunteer, was at the Highland Square event working with Nepali women to sell beautifully colored items that they created. “I work with the Bhutanese refugee women who have some sewing, knitting and weaving skills. We will be working with a lot of Indian silks so our product is going to be very, very unique,” Rastogi said.
“And all of the money goes back to the women,” she added.
Providing this opportunity for women who have never seen such a thing has been life-changing, she added. “When we first started about two years ago, the women were sort of lost, and now I see them getting very focused and feeling very confident that they can make items. They are now able to talk to people and communicate effectively. It’s an incredible journey we’ve had. For me it’s been a very joyful experience, financially stabilizing women who have had a very rough time,” Rastogi said.
At the recent event, tables were set up on the sidewalk with a unique display of gifts, which were also sprinkled throughout the Market Path fair trade store, which had its doors wide open to this venture.
“We have such an amazing mix, there are a number of local community artists and a group called ‘Larry and Boo’s Emporium.’ They make really great textile stuffed animals, baby slings and funky gear out of mostly vintage or recycled items,” Millard said.
There also are plenty of knitters who’ve created fascinating, colorful masterpieces, as well as artists from the County of Summit Developmental Disabilities Board, who provide jewelry, and local artists, including Nia Green with “Earth by April."
“Living in the Highland Square Community where you have a lot of different people who are artisans to talk to and network with (is inspiring),” Green said. “This is the perfect community to get involved in something like this. I want to thank Lindsay and Day (of Market Path) for extending themselves in this way. We want to welcome other artists to come on board and hopefully build us up into something that’s more like a tradition."
Participants say it was a great experience, and they will be returning to Highland Square again this month near the Market Path store. The next show is June 30 from 4 to 7 p.m. For more info, visit theknittedneighborhood.org.