Rivervalley Artisan Market closes first season with 500% growth in attendance, looks to expand to downtown Fort Smith

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 518 views 

The Rivervalley Artisan Market has outgrown its Fort Smith location at Creekmore Park, according to co-organizer Elizabeth James, who briefed the city’s Parks Commission at a Wednesday (Nov. 9) meeting.

With the first season complete, James said the nighttime art market will need to expand beyond the park and is looking at the downtown Ross-Pendergraft and Compass Parks as possible locations for launch next April. James said there was “huge interest in vendors who want to be a part of this market,” admitting that the experiment, which began in August, had to turn away vendors by the end of the season.

“We have loved being here at Creekmore, but I’m afraid the market has outgrown this space,” James said.

One issue the Rivervalley Artisan Market faced was in not having enough electricity available to accommodate the 35-vendor average and grant additional space to meet demand for vendors hoping to participate. Ross-Pendergraft, James said, has electricity availability “about every 50 to 60 feet” allowing the necessary space for expansion.

“It would also provide more options for people, who want more out of downtown. A lot of times people will go to a restaurant or bar and then head straight home. With the Artisan Market, it provides more activities downtown, and a better chance they will stay, hang out, and put more money back into the local economy,” she said.

Average vendor earnings for the first season ranged from $600 to $3,000 per market, James said, with two to six spaces reserved for charities, and the age range of participants averaged “between 20 and 40 years old.”

James said many supporters have cited downtown developments like the Unexpected murals project as “things there we should be tied in with.” If the market can move to either of its preferred locations by next April, James believes “50 to 60 vendors with food trucks” could be accommodated.

During the six markets that were held in the first season, attendance grew from 100 to 500. Moving downtown would also give her and co-organizer Michelle Weldon the opportunity to secure more sponsorships, she said, so they could pursue a paid advertising campaign. For the inaugural year, the pair relied on social media, word-of-mouth, and a single $250 sponsorship, and as partnerships with local charities like the Sebastian County Humane Society and the Children’s Emergency Shelter.

Another consideration for the second season will involve changing the date from Thursdays to Saturdays.

“We had a lot of people say, ‘This is wonderful, but we can’t stay late’ because of school or other activities,” James explained.

No action was necessary from the Parks Commission at Wednesday’s meeting, but James did receive the group’s support, and will begin working with Fort Smith Parks Department Recreation Supervisor Jennifer Oberste to work out the logistics.

One additional opportunity the Rivervalley Artisan Market will pursue involves larger markets at the River Front Amphitheater. James did not provide names but said there had been “larger bands” in contact with the market willing to provide discounted rates should they be able to organize a larger venue.