By Carmina Masoliver

People tend to flock to arts markets during the festive season, looking for gifts for loved ones, or treating themselves. I write in celebration of these markets and to urge others who want to shop ethically to seek out their local arts markets all year round.

In my locale, I enjoyed Forest Hill’s Havelock Walk’s open studios, and the Christmas market at Catford Mews, Catford’s independent cinema. On a trip to Brighton recently, I also stumbled upon an Etsy market, bringing the digital selling platform offline and allowing people to meet the makers in person and support their small businesses. Whilst original artworks may be beyond many people’s budgets, most stalls will offer items at a range of price points, with my own recent purchases including screen-printed badges, handmade tree decorations and a potted plant.

As someone who has been on the other side of the market stall, trying to shift copies of my poetry books, as well as my own badges and paintings, I feel all the more strongly the importance of supporting artists in this way. Sometimes I’ve made a profit, and other times a massive loss, and that’s not even taking into account the unpaid labour of holding the stall and speaking to potential customers for hours, sometimes in cold and rainy weather.

The beauty of buying in this way is not only that it is a move away from the mass production of High Street stores and much online retail, but that you never know what you could discover. As well as supporting the stall holders, your purchases are also more likely to be tied to the memory of the place. There is a feel-good factor, a feeling opposite to the guilt that may come from spending in less ethical ways.

Creative, activist organisations and individuals such as these are active all year round, not just at Christmas

One other discovery from the Catford Mews was an organisation called ‘Create Without Borders’, which is a volunteer-led non-profit organisation based in Lewisham that promotes and celebrates the work of creatives with lived experience of forced migration by collaboratively creating digital and physical spaces that showcase their work. Over the festive period, they not only sold artwork made by refugees, but also collected presents for Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network and for Refugee Women, hosted workshops, and participated in a local festival featuring live music.

Creative, activist organisations and individuals such as these are active all year round, not just at Christmas. It is up to us to seek them out, support them with our money when we are able, and follow what they do. So look out for your local arts markets throughout 2022 – you’ll find that there is always something new to discover.

All images courtesy of the author

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