A new name, devoted customers, and a shift in spirit keeps Idaho Made thriving
by Laura Wolsten, photography by Mark Dyrud
Survival as an artist requires a few essentials. Courage, as the iconic artist Georgia O’Keefe wrote; also, money (definitely money), some publicity, and space to display and sell one’s creative work. Six years ago, several local artists concluded a feasible way to over come these hurdles was to band together. They did, forming a cooperative, now called Idaho Made.
Located in downtown Boise on 6th street in a storefront space, Idaho Made is a store and gallery wrapped into one delightful experience. Any shopper can walk in and buy a gift, a memento, or personal treasure from the artistic work of nearly 60 artists. A marvelous variety awaits visitors, creatively and seamlessly displayed: hand-spun yarn, beaded jewelry, tiny glass chess sets, brilliant scarves, acrylic paintings, adorable plush toys, fragrant and colorful soap, to list just a fraction of what is displayed.
Underlying the beautiful wares is a smart business structure. A cooperative, Idaho Made requires each artist to carry the financial burden of paying the lease and maintaining the business. Overall, it’s pretty cheap. Molly Seaman, a collage artist and director at the co-operative explains that each artist pays rent determined by how many hours he or she works in the store. Seaman says, that for example, by working 4 hours a week, an artist pays only $40 a month. Another favor to artists, they don’t have to pay a percentage of what they sell to the co-operative. This allows artists, she says, to earn full profit from their work, and build their careers.
Originally called “Indie Made,” the cooperative resulted from an Etsy Street Team that combined forces and settled down in a permanent space, setting it apart in design and space from flea markets and booths at art fairs. Unlike those venues, Seaman explains, the store is organized by item, not artist, making shopping easier for visitors with a more “boutique” like feel. Seaman, trained in merchandizing, arranges the creative wares in the store so that they flow together.
At Idaho Made, a range of artists of type and experience are represented. Some are just beginning their careers; others are experienced and have a national cliental. Seaman says it’s rewarding to watch an artist work hard, and subsequent career take off.
How does an artist become part of the cooperative? Each artist must fill in an application and the cooperative’s five directors review the application, accepting artists who can fill available niches. Once an artist has been accepted, he or she exclusively holds that niche. For example, Seaman says, jewelry is very popular, yet the cooperative accepts only a few jewelers protecting their salability, and enhancing variety in the store.
Another quality of this protective community is that no space or artist in the shop is promoted or highlighted over another, no matter how well known or popular their work is. In other words, there are no “stars.” Instead, what exists is an equable, very supportive community of artists. As Tracy Fries, a fused glass artist and cooperative member put it, “Idaho Made is an artist incubator.”
Seaman also attributes the cooperative’s success to its very loyal customers, many who visit on a weekly or monthly basis and shop when a favorite artist is working to ask questions and check for new work.
In late 2015, the cooperative switched its name to Idaho Made, a name, Seaman says, that better expresses the store’s identity. She also believes there’s a new spirit at work, a shift in the cooperative that’s impressive. During the holidays, she saw an outpouring of enthusiasm, willingness to work, and contributions from members. In terms of sales, December has also turned out to be Idaho Made’s best month since its inception. “It’s a wonderful group of artists,” she says.