Two Tacomans bet there’s a market in one-stop online shopping for local art and crafts made in our gritty city.
Maija McKnight and Amy McBride have launched TacomaMakes.com, an online portal for “unique, limited-run and other local artisan-made and inspired goods.”
It’s more than a local version of Etsy, though a direct-sale option will be possible. McKnight and McBride also envision acting as art publishers.
Their first project reflects that collaborative idea. It’s a deck of playing cards, selling for $20, that features the work of 14 artists interpreting the story of Tacoma. The result will be 54 pieces of art that fit in your hand.
“People don’t have to like art to like these cards,” McBride said. “It’s a symbol of community that you play with. There is so much talent here that can be used to fill that souvenir niche and raise the profile of talent in Tacoma.”
The women are using Kickstarter, an online funding platform, to raise the initial $13,000 needed to print 2,500 decks and pay the artists a modest fee. The campaign began Thursday, and in the first 36 hours more than 100 people had contributed almost $6,000.
“Tacomans are really invested in their artists,” said Chandler O’Leary, a Tacoma letterpress artist who is designing the card’s cover, the box and one of the ranks – also known as four of a kind. Most of her customers are local, but even she was surprised at how fast the money has come in.
“I’m just floored,” she said. “I didn’t doubt we’d get the funding, but I had no idea it would be like this.”
The card idea has hit a sweet spot of local pride, grass-roots support for the arts and a lack of truly Tacoma souvenirs. McKnight, who came up with the plan, said she recalled the absence of local art in the gift shops at downtown museums.
“You could buy a really beautiful book ... but other than that, there wasn’t much Tacoma there,” she said.
O’Leary said she has regular visitors asking for souvenirs, and “I’m stumped. There’s the Gritty Tacoman shirts, the 253 heart sticker, which are great, but there’s a lack of items that showcase Tacoma.
“I know I’m not the only artist in this town getting tired of people pooh-poohing Tacoma,” she said.
McKnight, a jewelry maker, started brainstorming last fall with her friend, McBride. Both are working on TacomaMakes.com independent of their jobs as city arts administrators — McBride in Tacoma and McKnight in Auburn. McKnight had seen a similar deck of cards for Portland and believed Tacoma was a perfect fit.
The women also kept their eye on the bigger picture. The traditional artist/gallery business model doesn’t serve Tacoma well.
“There’s a whole level of arts that’s not traditional gallery art. It may be more crafty,” McBride said. “Fulcrum (Gallery on the Hilltop) is critical, but BKB just closed and that was the closest we came to a craft gallery.”
Tacoma is for Lovers, a roving craft show coordinated by Jennifer Adams, has proven demand exists for quality, unique work that’s inexpensive. O’Leary said her best-sellers are less than $100.
TacomaMakes.com “could take it to the next level” for local artists, McBride said, giving them more exposure and a better shot at earning a living. The women plan to take profits from the first card deck and invest in a second one. They said they’d draw a salary only after TacomaMakes.com takes off.
“We’re a traditional industrial town. We have a lot of artists who make things with their hands – letterpress, glass-blowing, jewelry,” McBride said. “We’re a town of makers.”
ABOUT THE DECK OF CARDS
Fourteen artists will contribute designs, which will be finalized by the end of the summer. The cards will be be poker-tournament quality, printed by the United States Playing Card Company in Erlanger, Ky. Each box will contain an insert listing the artists and places represented, and will retail for $20 beginning this fall. To contribute to the initial funding campaign, go to www.TacomaMakes.com and click on “Kickstarter.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8546