Throughout the summer art fairs pop up all over our region. They provide unique wares in informal settings and combine the energy of a street fair with a foreign market. Interacting with the crowds of people, the vendors and the artists is not just about making a great deal, it is also about communicating, interacting and experience. Having the chance to discuss workmanship with the artists and touch the artwork contributes to both a personal experience and a different connection with the supply-and-demand dance of commerce and consumption. While these afternoons sometimes come with the hot sun and lots of people, the experience of purchasing an item becomes a personal story, a fulfilling day or a new discovery. As cliché as the concept of “make the most of every day” may seem, interaction in everyday tasks goes a long way toward “making the most.”
Similar to the experience of the art fair is a fall trip to a farmers market. These days, small markets are popping up throughout the summer and fall and they sell everything from produce and flowers to soaps and art. The act of shopping for produce for the evening’s dinner provides the same interaction and experience I described earlier. Touching and picking fresh corn or a basket of mums, talking with the farmer or the merchant and filling bags with items makes this process personal and more thoughtful. It also has the added benefits of being healthy, both physically and emotionally. We pick fresh items to eat, think about our choices and engage as social beings. All of these characteristics add to the experience. So often we shop for items mindlessly, checking our lists, filling our baskets and talking only to the checkout when asked if we would like paper or plastic. These experiences, while sometimes necessary, dehumanize day-to-day activities and make our days seem less significant and much less personal.
Public markets also have the benefit of supporting local commerce. The farmers and artists are often local and present locally grown and made products. These people are our neighbors and contribute to our economy, and the market experience also allows us the opportunity to build a relationship of some kind, one that can become a more invested customer/client bond.
At the root of all this interest in public markets, in my opinion, is the need to reconnect and give our day-to-day lives more detail, color and texture. Edward Glaeser’s book, “The Triumph of the City,” talks about how our cities benefit us because they allow us to function more efficiently and faster. The most important part of his argument is that cities allow us to communicate better because people are social beings. As social beings personal touch and interaction is important to our success. Regardless of the speed and ease we gain from technology, ideas and experiences are better translated and created in person. That message is clear both in his book and in the resurgence and the success of public markets.
As Fort Wayne considers creating a year-round public market, it is exciting to see the level of enthusiasm for creating more spaces like these throughout the region. These steps are — at their core — opportunities to regain options and support local business, but most importantly they help us build community. In the end, when we are connected within our communities, anything we dream together is possible.
Jim Sparrow is executive director of Arts United, the third-oldest united arts fund in the United States and the second largest arts council in Indiana.