Why we're headed to the Blue Genie Art Bazaar's new home
For years, I've driven out to Springdale Road to attend events at the large warehouse that Blue Genie Art Industries calls home. This is behind the Blue Hanger, an outlet of Goodwill Industries where forklifts dump pallets of donated goods onto large tables. The thing about shopping at the Blue Hanger is that dishes and coffee carafes are dumped alongside stuffed animals, clothes, and books. With shards of glass all over the place and forklifts driving around the dirt-and-rock parking lot, it can be dangerous, so much so that on Saturdays, when it is busiest, there are security guards with whistles to direct traffic.
One of the events I'd never miss was the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, a holiday show and art sale. It started in 2001 with a weeklong sale for 20 artists, but under the artist-friendly tutelage of Blue Genie Art Industries members Rory Skagen, Dana Younger, Kevin Collins, Chris Coakley, Dan Morrison, Ryan Day, Kristen Hogan, Michael Merritt, Josh Krezinski, and Carrie Atkins, the bazaar has expanded to 20 shopping days with nearly 100 artists participating. Going past the thrift superstore and signless recycling center on your way to the good art and design of the bazaar was always cool, and the contrast of the crappy parking lot and entryway made the lit-up booths inside the bazaar feel all the more intimate, in a fabulously contrived way. The pristine, or at least ambitious, vending displays sit in stark contrast to the industrial surroundings. I always appreciated the efforts of production that it took to transform a dusty workshop into a boutique gallery and fun place to hang around.
This year, I won't be making that drive out to Springdale and risking high heels in the lot that Blue Genie co-founder Skagen calls "chuckhole city" – not because I won't be going to the bazaar this year but because it's moved to a new location at the Monarch Event Center in Lincoln Village, near Highland Mall.
Why did Blue Genie head north? Skagen, who started Blue Genie with Black Mountain Arts dudes Younger and Collins after they were evicted from their woodsy 2-acre studio compound on South Second Street, offers several reasons, beginning with that parking lot. "It is dirt and rocks and has highly deteriorated over the years. We are behind the Goodwill distribution center, and the constant flow of their trucks has made the lot 'chuckhole city,'" he says. "Also, the dust from the parking lot is a bitch. Nobody wants dusty gifts. Furthermore, we never had indoor bathrooms for the event, only Porta Pottis. At the new space, there is plenty of paved parking, great indoor bathrooms, and overall easy access. Also, heating was a problem at our shop, and the new environment is temperature-friendly. I guess we felt everyone should be able to enjoy the show. Another major reason for the change in location is the impact the art bazaar had on our commercial-art business. The bazaar took up about 80 percent of our shop. Currently, our workload for the commercial end of our business needs that space."
Another reason has to do with a wake-up call that Blue Genie received from the fire marshal in March of this year. During a live-music rental event for South by Southwest, the commercial-art company was fined for having too many people in the space. That week Collins told me on the phone, "I have to agree; nobody wants another Great White," referring to the tragic fire during the heavy metal band's concert at a Rhode Island nightclub. Blue Genie immediately contacted the people at Vice magazine and at the Octopus Club – an AIDS charity group – which had scheduled events in the space, and canceled them. Also, Collins did 20 hours of community service (getting to meet some real criminals in the process). The Blue Genie guys took the laws of Travis County seriously, they respected their public audiences, they communicated well with their constituencies, and they did the right thing. This kind of professional attitude and decision-making is part of what keeps great artists coming back to the Blue Genie Art Bazaar.
The No. 1 reason that Blue Genie attracts a certain caliber of artists and designers, though, is they make the most money there. Last year the artists taking part collectively grossed a total in the low six figures, with Blue Genie merchandise grossing five figures alone. Artists go where the cash is, and buyers seem to like the "superstore" mentality that keeps long hours and packs many items into one location. Add to that the fact that Blue Genie continues to charge artists only a $30 application fee and 35% artist's commission, and the equation undercuts many other events and businesses.
Another factor that artists like is that they are invited to spend time at the bazaar, not required to, and that makes all the difference. When you meet an artist at Blue Genie, it's their freely given choice to be there greeting you. That helps create a genial, sincere environment, and it belongs with the professional staffing and artist-friendly financial structure as evidence of the best practices that Blue Genie takes to the bazaar. A record number of artists and designers are following Blue Genie to the I-35 corridor – an action that speaks to the trust that they have in this event and its producers.
Shoppers have reason to trust, too. The bazaar has built a strong reputation for high-quality work by fine artists, functional designers, and crafters. Prints and paintings, hand-knitted sweaters and hand-sewn dresses, accessories, metalwork, and furniture are all available. Sometimes I don't know what I want until I see it. I admit I've bought a gift at Blue Genie – perhaps a Chia cape "for my sister" – and just kept it and bought her a new present. I made the mistake of putting it on at home, and the lining was so soft and the collar so warm ...
So I'll definitely drive up north for the chance to see all those artists set up there, and I'll bet a lot of others will, too. Like they say: If you build it, they will come.
The seventh annual Blue Genie Art Bazaar continues through Dec. 24, Sunday-Thursday, 10am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 10am-12mid; and Sunday, Dec. 24, 10am-6pm, at the Monarch Events Center in Lincoln Village, 6406 N. I-35 #3100. For more information, visit www.bluegenieart.com.