Americans flock to retail stores on Black Friday and websites on Cyber Monday, but a new initiative is asking buyers to add another destination to their holiday shopping itinerary: the storefronts of local artists on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Photographer Chris Sherman developed the concept of “Artists Sunday” in 2019, after noticing a bump in sales on that day in November. “The idea struck,” Sherman told Hyperallergic. “What a great time to patronize artists — during the busiest shopping weekend of the year.”
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In 2020, Sherman launched the project alongside Cynthia Freese, a fellow artist who has also spent extensive time on the boards of arts nonprofits. On a dedicated website, Sherman and Freese provide artists and arts organizations with free marketing materials to promote the event. Now in its third year, over 4,000 artists and more than 600 towns and cities across the country have signed onto the initiative, which takes advantage of special events and partnerships (with nonprofits, individual artists, and businesses) to spread the message.
Sherman explained that although thousands of artists are listed on an online directory, a more important aspect of their strategy involves creators who reach indirectly through partnerships. Some of those partners include the American Craft Council and state organizations such as the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts or the Oregon Arts Commission. Those groups then spread the word about Artists Sunday with art associations across their states. Erik Evans, executive director of Maryland’s Annapolis Arts District, said his group promotes Artists Sunday through press releases, social media posts, and email blasts.
Participating artists in the Artists Sunday directory run the gamut from painters to ceramicists. Among the latter is Alex Beck, a Bay Area potter who creates practical items, such as planters, mugs, and vases, using hand-carved and glazed designs. Beck told Hyperallergic he’s excited about the prospect of the event, which he thinks will make new art buyers go out of their way to discover local artists.
Another participant this year is Heidi Pitre, a Kansas City-based artist who creates her work on old library checkout logs. Pitre began her project in 2015 after discovering that her library’s old logs were being thrown out as the institution transitioned to a digital borrowing system. “I did not have a plan for the cards, but I felt the need to rescue them,” Pitre told Hyperallergic. The oldest log she’s found is from 1927, and Pitre’s drawings incorporate the subject matter of the books they used to inhabit. An old card from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1882), for example, includes a compass, a map, and a chest of jewels.
In Austin, Texas, Stella Alesi is also selling her work this Artists Sunday. Alesi makes large-scale sculptural paintings, such as “With Grace” (2022), an installation of oil on paper that has been applied to panel. The event stretches beyond the United States, too: In Edinburgh, Scotland, Ayshia Taşkın is selling a range of multimedia works and drawings, some created using artificial intelligence (AI).
“Everyone involved really would love to have Artists Sunday roll off the tongue along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday,” Sherman said. “That’s the ultimate goal.” Pitre pointed out that the holiday sheds a spotlight on local artists, but she also acknowledged a benefit for consumers in providing an opportunity to purchase unique and long-lasting gifts, a benefit mega-retailers do not typically offer their buyers.