Made Fair 2 (copy)

Erin Kane demonstrates a Flyvines bracelet to Susie Hollis during the Made Fair last summer in Caras Park. The fair hosts vendors whose products are made in the region. 

The Missoula Made Fair, started 11 years ago as an alternative to traditional arts and crafts markets, keeps on growing.

Last year, for the summer fair in Caras Park, the organizers added 40 more artists and took over the park and the lot next to A Carousel for Missoula.

"We have about 30 to 40% more people than we're able to accommodate," said founder Carol Lynn Lapotka of the nonprofit HandMADE Montana and ReCreate Designs.

This Sunday, 165 artists will fill that space with works ranging from prints, photographs, paintings, clothing, accessories and more, selected by a jury from about 250 applicants. Most are from Missoula or Montana, but some, like illustrator Max Mahn, are former Missoula residents who make the return trip.

While he and some artists are regulars, Lapotka said they aim to include about 20% new artists to keep things fresh.

While gauging attendance can be difficult since there's no central entryway, they estimate that 4,000 to 5,000 people come by for the crafts, food vendors and more.

Artists often work in solitude, so "events like this bring the artists and the general population" together. "They can get feedback. People really appreciate meeting the people who make what they're buying," she said. Anecdotally, she says that people seem interested in shopping more conscientiously, with a focus on buying local and handmade goods.

And they buy away. She estimates the summer fair produces $200,000 in sales.

The weather looks to be more cooperative this summer.

"It's not going to be 100 degrees," she said. "And Tobey McGuire and Leonardo DiCaprio will probably not be making an appearance, but you never know."

The fair is organized by Lapotka and illustrator Courtney Blazon. The Missoula summer fair is the smaller edition. In December, the Holiday Made Fair takes over the Adams Center at the University of Montana, with more than 200 artists and an estimated attendance of 8,000 people. They also have a marketplace at the Western Montana Fair in the new Commercial Building. They've branched out into Helena and as well. Last fall, they expanded into Bozeman and are open to new cities in Montana, too.

"We're watching other markets to see when other events could possibly happen," she said.

"It takes artists, it takes customers, it takes a solid, large venue to hold them all, so we look at all those things and make sure we're not competing with other, similar events. We just want to have a successful event for everyone to participate in," she said.

Outside of the fairs, Lapotka is moving her own business, ReCreate Designs and Grove Outdoors, into a historic building on Polson's Main Street, with an estimated opening date of July 1.

The space is large enough for a retail store to sell her clothes and work by a rotating selection of artists. Another bonus is a larger production area, since she's outgrown her home set-up in St. Ignatius.

She's arranging an open production area to underscore the handmade aspect of the work for visitors.

"It's a step beyond meeting the person at the craft fair. You can actually see first-hand how things are being made, and that there's real people behind them, and not just a manufacturer overseas," she said.

They'll also have workshops for artists who want to expand their businesses, and resources like a product photography area.

The Polson Redevelopment Agency helped fund the move into a new 2,000-square-foot space, and she hopes it can be a part of the revitalization of downtown and help draw people year-round in addition to the summer tourist season.

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