The Garden City is Still in the Making

Missoula Makers Collective inspires new wave of local support for artists

A maker is a shaper, a planter, a creator, a doer. There’s this connotation that artists thrive off their inspiration, so what happens when a maker produces something in isolation? When the world has shut them in, what magic will come out?

Bailey Durnell and Rachel Cowan found themselves right here--in their beginnings of an answer to that question--during the (first) long winter of Covid. While bartending together downtown they discovered that each owned a handmade small business. Bailey’s Montana Clay Creations offers uniquely designed earrings, while Rachel’s Throwing Darts Art sells hand-sawn and hammered pieces. Covid did create a spike in more handmade businesses emerging due to more time at home and the successful Buy Small Movement, but it also presented new challenges in growth and communication. Artists suddenly lacked the ability to network and simply converse about overcoming start-up hurdles.

The two women, like many others in Missoula, had already planted their seeds, but even if they did manage to grow something vibrant and strong, it would still be a lone bloom. What they really needed was a plot.

“We were looking for a way to re-connect makers after Covid. Artists need relationships,” said Rachel. What started primarily as a collection site for online shopping has now extended into a retail and meeting space nested inside Pearl Boba Tea on North Higgins. Owners Asia and Dustin of PBT recognized Bailey and Rachel’s difficulties as young business owners and wanted to help them in the same way others helped Asia and Dustin in their early days. With PBT sourcing their ingredients locally and supporting various community initiatives, their values perfectly aligned with Missoula Makers Collective’s. A plot was cleared, a space at the ready.

Today, the Missoula Makers Collective is comprised of 52 women and trans or nonbinary artists who have been carefully selected from applicants based on their existing online presence and their community involvement. While the goal is to assist each maker with income generation, it is equally important to the Collective that all artists’ work be seen even if only one product is purchased. After all, community members will make the effort to walk through a plentiful space, but few will drive downtown or trudge the snowy streets just to see what one artist has in store.

Aside from the generous retail space within Pearl Boba Tea, Missoula Makers Collective held 20 markets in 2022 to gain more foot traffic; a signal fire for folks wanting a handmade item.

“It’s amazing how Missoula shows up for the handmade market,” said Bailey. And the support is not limited to consumers. Local businesses such as Kettlehouse Brewing Co., lent MMC their parking lot multiple times during the summer, allowing 26 small business owners to grow.

The annual Parade of Lights also created a new opportunity for winter markets. The Missoula Downtown Association approached Bailey and Rachel with the idea to transition away from a traditional parade and move more into a village stroll concept. The result was 25 makers in 250 feet of sidewalk space.

“A beautiful ripple effect of that market was that many of the businesses downtown experienced higher sales than usual that night,” said Rachel.

In addition to providing makers more opportunities and support, Missoula Makers Collective’s mission extends to educating shoppers on the importance of buying local. Most Missoula makers work in some form of community support role—social worker, non-profit, customer service. When consumers shop handmade, not only are they supporting these community members, but the money spent stays in the community longer.

“Locally spent money is not only good for the immediate economy, but it is just as much a political decision as voting and attending rallies. When you shop your values, you spend on who you support and what lifestyles you want in your community,” said Bailey.

While providing makers spaces and markets in which to sell their creations is much of what Missoula Makers Collective does, it’s really only half of it. The other half is the groundwork. After all, seeds need tending to. Maker Meetings offer MMC members classes in knowledge sharing. Examples include creating content and reels, selling wholesale, and various tax information. Classes are led by both existing members and diverse Missoula business professionals who often donate their time. Open meetings allow makers to simply come and ask questions regarding their businesses.

Currently in the making is Missoula Makers Collective’s debut Makers Grant Fund. This is collected from 5% of all market booth fees, the sale of select merchandise, and donations from makers themselves. The idea is to create a board of MMC members and local professionals to award a new handmade business owner with the grant to assist in start-up costs—something Bailey and Rachel saw many lacked during the initial spike of home-based Covid operations.

While the pandemic did force many small businesses into hibernation, it also gave so many the time to reevaluate their own priorities. Many found growth through adversity. That growth is essential, but in isolation it isn’t enough. Community, leadership and social change activist Parker Palmer once wrote, “We do not believe that we ‘grow’ our lives—we believe that we ‘make’ them…we make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living, make love.” Missoula Makers Collective makes community. As a “collective,” this means all of us in the Garden City, whether we make something ourselves or buy from someone who does.

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