Smile Politely

The Made Fest makes it

Justine Bursoni and long-time friend Alexia Brown have talked about starting an “arts-and-crafts thing” in cahoots with the Champaign-Urbana Pygmalion Music Festival for years.

This year, everything finally panned out. 

Bursoni is the co-founder of Pygmalion, and founder of The Made Fest, the arts and crafts fair for this area. This is a one-day, curated, full-blown marketplace featuring handmade and vintage sellers from around the nation.

Smile Politely: How did you, and Made Fest, end up in Champaign-Urbana?  Why here?

Bursoni: I went to school here and on the last day of my last final I met Seth [Fein], my husband. I moved back here for him, and I’ve been here since 2004 now. When I was in school down here, I really didn’t think that much of Champaign, but when I came back here to live with Seth, I was shocked by the amount of things that were going on that didn’t exist in my world when I was down here before. We had always talked about doing some kind of arts and craft thing somehow—one of his friends in New York used to do a U-Haul truck mobile art exhibit that was really cool—but I just got to the place where I was like, “OK, I need a real job,” so I started doing photography and went back to school here for it. I just didn’t really know how to make [Made Fest] happen—Seth inspired me a lot on the production end of things. Watching him put together Pygmalion really made me want to do this, but I’d never participated in an arts and crafts festival as an artist, so I talked to my good friend Alexia—she’s an artist and she knew how to run the back-end of something like this. I knew we needed to approach it from a different point of view than the music festival, but I just really wanted to have something here that is a part of Pygmalion, kind of more geared toward younger people, too. 

Pygmalion is considered one of the foremost indie rock music festivals in the world, and the Bursoni-Brown team is over the moon about introducing this new, artistic addition to the sounds and the stages. There is experience to their enthusiasm, however, since both founders are familiiar with arts and craft fairs from around the country, such as Renegade in Chicago.

SP: Wait, what’s Renegade?

Bursoni: Oh, it’s huge… It’s an arts and craft fair in Chicago that’s about ten blocks of closed-off street space that I think five or so people put together on their own. They solicit artists from everywhere. I think now they have about 300 vendors—it’s bananas! They have it in Austin, Texas too now, in Brooklyn… It’s a big production. So she used to be a vendor there, we were just talking about doing something like that but on a way smaller scale, and she was just like, “that sounds really cool, I’ll come down and help you work on this.”

While “taking a break” from Pygmalion, festival attendees will experience top-notch Made Fest vendors from all over the country—Connecticut, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa—and a multitude of local artists, as well.  More than 42 different artists applied, and only 26 made the cut.

SP: So what was the process of picking those vendors?

Bursoni: At Renegade I saw some artists that I reached out to or Alexia reached out to… We just kind of tried word-of-mouth first to see who was interested, and then tried sort of piggy-backing off of Pygmalion’s social networking.  We do have some local sponsors too who also got the word out with local artists.  The power of the Internet helped, too.  I reached out to one person on Etsy and they contacted their friend and now both of them are doing it…

We just had a good amount of applicants and tried to narrow things down based on categories—we didn’t want to have too many vendors who were jewelry vendors so it wouldn’t be a jewelry fair, and we wanted to try to see what would have been a good match for the music festival.  I know a lot of people who would have been great in general, but we were trying to look at who was definitely going to be attending—if you’re into Major Lazer, you’re probably not there to buy quilts. 

According to Bursoni, The Made Fest was partially inspired by the arts and craft fair at Pitchfork Music Festival at Union park in Chicago. This year, Pitchfork’s lineup included Bjork, Mikal Cronin, Daughn Gibson, Joanna Newsom, Angel Olsen, Frankie Rose, Trash Talk, and Wire.

In a recent Huffington Post guide, Pitchfork and Made Fest were compared to Chicago summer street festivals like Renegade Craft Fair and Do Division. Like these popular fairs, this year’s Made Fest will feature hand-made jewelry, apparel, accessories, music-related items, home goods, and paper products. Many vendors will accept credit card payments, and there is an ATM located next door at Jupiter’s Pizza. This is not just a bonus for the attendees; artisans get a boost in the public eye, too.

Of course, Made Fest is open not only to Pygmalion attendees, but also to people from around the community who want to check out the local arts scene.

Bursoni: It’s just such a great way to get your art out there and to share it with everyone, to make connections with people. It’s another part of adding to the culture here.

For this first run on Made Fest accompanying Pygmalion, the organizers opted for quality over quantity.

I think there’s something to be said for having a test run of vendors,” Bursoni said. “Keeping it small, giving them a decent amount of space in which to work, and giving them serious one-on-one attention. It’s going to be an interesting group of people, that’s for sure.”


The Made Fest is happening September 28th from 11 am to 7 pm at The Highdive Outdoor Annex. It is free and open to the public.

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