Barnyard Saints Blog: Unexpected Springfield

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Danielle spins yarn at the Shops at Marketplace. —Courtesy Danielle Mulcahy

Island artist duo Danielle Mulcahy and Walker Roman hit the road at the beginning of October, armed with a renovated fifth-wheel trailer, all of their possessions, and art-making materials. Their goal is to make art, sell art at different venues and pop-ups, educate about art making, and live more simply, responsibly, and in the present. See more at barnyardsaintsart.com.

Our traveling Barnyard Saints vending booth has brought us across New England, from the quaintness of the Chilmark Flea to the bustle of the Big E fairgrounds. Each location brought its own crowd and palette of vendors, but this week our surroundings had special significance. Our final venue in New England before we turn south for the winter brought us to the most unexpected location yet, a former bank in downtown Springfield that closed in the wake of the 2008–09 lending crisis.

Created by Nancy Feth and Mikki Lessard, the Shops at Marketplace transformed the former financial institution into a local cultural hub. The holiday market features 50 local artisans and vendors, live music by the Zanetti School Choirs, and a Hollywood-quality Santa by Spear Costumes. In the heart of Springfield, where most retail spaces have remained vacant since the crisis, the Shops at Marketplace are testament to the resolve of local artists and entrepreneurs to seize opportunity and fix what the banks broke. Danielle met Nancy and Mikki a few years ago when the duo hired her to produce video content for their business Simply Grace, and the meeting quickly bloomed into a loving friendship. We were naturally thrilled to jump aboard as resident artists for the Shops at Marketplace when they invited us to set up our booth in their revitalized space. Initially, we were apprehensive about the lack of foot traffic and general malaise of shoppers in Springfield, but we left inspired by Mikki and Nancy’s display of energy, perseverance, and pursuit of what they believe in.

We immediately connected with artist Stefania Amore of Stefania Amore Designs, whose handmade purses and shoulder bags fuse precision construction, vintage materials, and a seriously far-out aesthetic. We began collaboration plans almost instantly, all three of us overflowing with ideas to combine our over-the-top handspun yarns into Stefania’s designs. We felt right at home. Scheming with another artist and cooking up plans in the midst of a very intentional setting felt very Vineyard, much like late nights at Pathways or the Yard. These are our favorite spaces, the places where community pops up and surrounds a creative drive — I just didn’t ever expect to feel that way in a bank.

As we travel and find more creative communities, I’ve been tempted to draw comparisons between them, and understand what makes them tick. What makes them different from one another? Do they share some unseen combination of geographic location, population density, economic standing, tourism, or history? We’ve seen many intentional communities develop around these qualities, like Darkside, the indie rap label established out of the Samuel Porter House, Hadley’s oldest home. Or the Shops at Marketplace, which grew from a unique blend of economic opportunity and vacant space. The Vineyard has many of these factors in its favor, but what seems to tie them all together is the people. It seems all that’s needed is a few creative (and perhaps stubborn) individuals to plant their feet and insist on building something new. It could be a new market, performance venue, workshop, safe space, afterschool program, or theological space. They all require that one or two tenacious people push in a new direction and not worry how many people will show up. If you build it, they will come. Even if it’s just a few at first.