Blue Island arts group pairs craft beers with crafters Saturday for Mai Fest in Olde Western Avenue Historic District – Chicago Tribune

When scores of vendors showcase their wares Saturday in Blue Island, it will mark the city “coming back to life after the pandemic,” according to Joe Leamanczyk, head of the Blue Island Arts Alliance.

Mai Fest 2022 Arts and Crafts Fair will feature jewelry, T-shirts, paintings, skin care product, candles, crystals, cards and more, according to organizers.

The event is scheduled from noon to 5 pm Saturday. The 86 vendors planning to appear at Mai Fest will be set up indoors at the Blue Island Beer Company and outdoors in tents along Olde Western Avenue including on the patio of the Rock Island Public House. The items that will be for sale are all handmade by the artists, a criterion for being in the show.

The name “Mai Fest” was chosen to honor Blue Island’s German heritage.

“An event like this will attract people from all different areas around Chicago, bringing awareness to the great businesses in Blue Island,” Leamanczyk said. “We want people to see there is a creative community here, and we want to keep building that community.”

John Streetz, the driving force behind the Streetz Artz Alliance, is the planner and manager of the event. Streetz is a crafter himself, making pop-art-themed bead items through his business, Bead Streetz. He is also a fan of locally made beers, and while selling his art in breweries he had the idea to organize artists and crafters into an alliance, and to start arranging and managing shows in Chicago area breweries.

“I found that crafters and artists go really well with people drinking craft beers. I amassed a large group of talented artists and started reaching out to breweries to set up shows, ”he said. “Blue Island Beer Company was one of the first breweries to let me do this. Now the Alliance has grown to almost 300 artists and this month alone we have four shows. ”

These arrangements work well for many of the vendors who will be in Blue Island, several of whom report their products are especially compatible with craft beers.

Verzell James, for example, sells 10 fermented hot sauces, which range from mild to very hot, through his company Awe-Sauce.

“Hot sauce and beer just seem to go together,” he said. “Connecting with the breweries is a great idea. I started doing pop-ups in breweries when I launched the hot sauces in November of 2017. ”

There’s also Glen Kato, whose The Smile on a Dog, LLC, offers artwork painted on wood panels, cloth bags, T-shirts, notecards and other items with pet and nature themes.

“It’s really a neat idea to connect with the breweries because one of my themes is dogs and beer. I have T-shirts and a lot of other items that talk about dogs and beer making humans happy for 10,000 years, ”he said.

Monsters and horror themes also do well at the brewery shows, said Carrie Been, who sells home decorations, paintings, jewelry, furniture and other items. Many have horror motifs – think Jason and the Creature from the Black Lagoon – but there are also crystal goods, walking sticks, and magic wands.

Been’s items, including her “creepy” and voodoo dolls, became so successful that last year she opened a shop in Crestwood, called Moonlight BEEN.

“Working with the breweries is always good,” she said. “They try to accommodate what you need, and the people who come to the show are out there to have a good time; they’re always nice. ”

Indeed, interacting with the public is a very important part of the craft shows for the vendors. During the pandemic, many artists moved to online sales, but they all agreed that nothing replaces the connections of live shows.

That’s the opinion of Jason Magafas, whose Axial Creations offers items made from aluminum chain mail, including jewelry, dream catchers, key chains, outfits and dice bags.

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“Nothing is going to beat the in-person shows, being able to tell people to go ahead and touch the items, pick them up, see how they look on you,” he said. “You make friends with your customers, and you learn about other opportunities from networking with the other crafters. It’s how I connected with the Streetz Alliance, and I have not regretted that. ”

And, as James points out, hot sauces really can’t be sampled over the internet or at most store displays.

“I prefer the in-person craft fairs and I’m looking forward to this one. I really enjoy talking to people and explaining the hot sauces and the different spices and seasonings in them. I enjoy it when the people who really like hot sauce look at me and say, ‘That’s really good!’ ”He said.

Olde Western Avenue will be closed from Broadway to Canal Streets for the Mai Fest. There won’t be any food trucks because visitors are encouraged to visit Blue Island’s food and beverage establishments. Inclement weather could cause changes to the plans.

The Mai Fest is free to the public, but a donation of $ 5 will be appreciated by the Blue Island Arts Alliance to help with other programming throughout the year.

“I hope this will become an annual event for BIAA,” Leamanczyk said. “The city of Blue Island wants to do more events, so we’re excited about what this next year holds for doing things in this town.”

Carol Flynn is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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