Since entering the craft scene since 2016 Midwest Craft Con hasn’t missed a beat. Part founder Megan Green shares the progression of MWCC during a recent interview.
Tell us all about Midwest Craft Con. What does the organization do, how did it come to be, and who does it serve?
Midwest Craft Con was formed through emails between three craft show organizers who live in different parts of Ohio. Representing Cincinnati (Grace Dobush/Crafty Supermarket), Akron (Brit Charek/Crafty Mart), and myself, Megan Green/Craftin’ Outlaws, living in Columbus. Grace had been conversing with Brit, who started exploring education for makers through Crafty Mart. I had a casual conversation with Grace about reviving Midwest Craft Caucus. The Craft Caucus was a two-day event held in 2011.
Grace introduced Brit and me in an email. As the conversations continued, Grace expressed wanting to be involved as she saw the content creation growing through those threads. In 2016, we received our 501(c)3 status.
Our mission has grown since the early days. We still host a conference that provides education and growth for craft business owners. Now we’re extending marketplaces to crafters through the absorption of Craftin’ Outlaws, a for-profit business I’ve been leading since 2009.
MWCC continues to serve business owners who specialize in their craft business, but we also cater to those just starting and hobbyists who enjoy the art of making but aren’t looking to monetize their craft.
Midwest Craft Con usually host the winter conference. How did you all pivot during 2020?
2020 certainly happened. We saw the news and reports coming during the conference. I recall making comments on stage and through social media to wash our hands to anyone who would listen. A few instructors cancel their participation. It was the last pre-Covid experience we participated in.
After the conference, we usually write emails, pay instructors, and wrap up the event from an administrative standpoint. The addition of a nationwide pandemic didn’t affect the process. Still, it provided payment for instructors and partners who were uncertain about their livelihoods as everything started closing up.
At first, we tried hard to stay engaged online with our keynotes and hosted private karaoke sessions within our Facebook group. The toll of remote day jobs and homeschooling kids took precedence. We needed to accept the depletion of our capacity. I took most of 2021 thinking if the organization could continue. Then, I realized the merger of Craftin’ Outlaws and Midwest Craft Con was the solution. It’s a decision I’m grateful I was able to come to, as there’s still so much we can accomplish.
Our big pivot moment is just starting. We have a new board who are lending talents. Our new member platform will include virtual programs and connections for makers year-round. It finally feels like an exciting time, and I’m looking forward to us gathering again soon. Deep down, I know allowing us the space to focus instead of charging through was the break that helped us grow.
What about the membership and marketplace offerings your organization have?
The membership is an extension of our Alumni Facebook group, where attendees can connect outside of the conference. Shifting from Facebook will also allow individuals who aren’t on social media a place to join in on the conversations, as well. Members can create discussions and seek advice they need on anything from supply chain issues or books to read. They can participate in existing threads while accessing virtual programs.
The additional value will come in the membership catalog, a digital magazine where members and the general public can learn more about an individual’s shops and products. Each page comes with a hyperlink, which sends the viewer to the members’ website, blog, or social media page. Members will also get discounts on the conference and MWCC merchandise, all for the annual fee of $49.
Craftin’ Outlaws has been a part of Ohio’s craft scene, with a preference for selling non-traditional crafts at Winter and Spring Marketplaces. The events are at the Columbus Museum of Art, which provides a beautiful background and setting for elevating the selling of exhibitor products. We see 3- 5,000 attendees join us for the free shopping day. Outlaws is a juried event with no fees to apply.
Where do you see the organization in the next three years?
My goals for Midwest Craft Con are sustainability and growth. Sustainability in revenue helps us hire staff, and we are still primarily volunteer-based with our board. Growth in our membership platform gives an active community and more virtual programs to help crafters grow outside of the conference. The addition of Craftin’ Outlaws provides additional revenue and allows us to gain access to the general public, creating more awareness of the organization overall.
Ohio is a pretty big craft community. How would you describe the Midwest craft community?
I feel honored to be a part of the Columbus, Ohio, and Midwest craft community and feel the art and craft leaders all work together to better our communities.
One of Midwest Craft Con’s goals originally was to offer a more affordable experience for Midwest makers, as the cost of living is generally lower. Our goal was to host events where you could drive without adding flight costs into your overall expense.
Those who invest in their community do so for the love of craft and for the cultures they serve. We all want to see this industry grow and support the individuals we serve through their craft.
Your organization’s staff is female. In what ways has your organization been more inclusive in the craft community?
We do have one male board member and many male exhibitors, but yes, we are primarily a female lead organization, which is indicative of our industry’s demographics.
A key factor to Midwest Craft Con from its inception is building a creative and diverse community, which started with our Code of Conduct and our diversity of speaker line-up, keynotes, board, and marketplace exhibitors.
Like most organizations, we need to keep working to be a more inclusive space, especially among our conference attendees. Since the beginning, our scholarships have been a part of our conference to help bridge those gaps, but we still have to be a space that supports makers from all backgrounds.
I’ve stated over the years that showcasing a diverse body of work at Craftin’ Outlaws events is nothing if the makers don’t also represent that diversity.
Most recently, I decided to keep our applications free to apply and avoid the non-refundable fees that have become the norm for larger events. It lets us make sure economic disadvantages aren’t complicating the path to selling at one of our events.
IDEA work covers many aspects of removing barriers, and the craft community still has a long way to go to make room for all voices.
Does Midwest Craft Con have any upcoming events that you would like to share with readers?
Memberships are open. We are still tight-lipped on the conference details, but we have our keynote chosen and plan to return in the Spring of 2023. We are excited about all of the upcoming events and the future of this organization! Our call for speakers and hands-on on instructors will be open this Summer.
501c3 organizations play a crucial role in serving communities. What are some ways that your organization has met the community’s needs?
For Midwest Craft Con, we focus on the education we offer through speakers that allows an individual to grow their business, allowing them a chance to become more successful and helps support economic growth for local communities and throughout the Midwest. We believe that education for creative entrepreneurs fosters civic engagement and fosters art-related conversations specific to our industry.
Megan, your passion is bringing together community and crafts. What has that been a passion of yours? If you have a craft journey (personally), please share.
My journey starts with maternal heroes, my grandmother and my mother. My mom took us on cultural experiences and my grandmother got me into weaving. I taught myself candle making, soap making, and sewing. I embraced entrepreneurial attempts at floral preservation, crafted birdhouses with my husband, and ran a plush-making company. Then I shifted to soap making after my first child was born. The craft community and hands-on experiences provided me with an education and a curiosity, which gave me a career path that I might not have found elsewhere.
Research shows that crafting as a practice can have mental health benefits. Personally, I’ve seen how crafting changed lives and provided space for individuals to grow. Crafts can connect and create communities when you feel lost. It can also provide financial assistance to your livelihood. There are highs and lows. The highs come when you make a sale from a stranger, when a kid refuses to leave your craft booth until they purchase one of your items, when you listen to a keynote share their struggles from a stage, and that helps push you to be a better version of yourself. Crafts gives back.