What do today’s art markets do? Are they places to browse for hidden gems, to meet other art lovers, to find a collaborator in realising your next big art project?

It seems they are all that and more. There are the art markets that have been around for more than a decade and counting – for instance, Art For Grabs, a pioneering “art bazaar mini-fest” that began at The Annexe Gallery, Central Market in Kuala Lumpur in 2007.

Through the years, it has hosted numerous weekend arts-based markets and collaborative events (with the KL Alternative Bookfest, Sisters In Islam and various NGOs). Art For Grabs, armed with its DIY spirit and arts community reach, set the template for many of today’s art markets.

Kaka Arts Market, which started as a weekly event, brought together artists, craftsmakers, hobbyists and art lovers under one roof.

Its first edition was held in 2010, after its founder, Tuna Lim, was so inspired by the creative markets she saw in Taiwan during her travels, that she was moved to start something similar back home. Over time, it evolved into an art market that is held four times a year at Klang Valley venues.

Of late, it even has a little extra thrown in: workshops, music and dance performances. But additions or not, the core value of Kaka Arts Market remains the same, according to production manager of Inxo Productions Lee Yen Chie.

“We have always served as a platform for local artists who are passionate in handmade design and art. We focus on original design and creative products as we believe it fosters an appreciation for the arts. And we believe that it is through art that we can learn to discover the beauty and value of life,” she says.

At the ARTitude Curated Bazaar, the challenge is to give visual art and handmade craft a platform in an increasingly commercial-minded pop-up market scene in the Klang Valley. Photo: ARTitude

Kaka Arts Market is currently managed by Inxo Arts and Culture Foundation, a non-governmental organisation initiated by Purple Cane, to develop arts and culture in a sustained manner.

As for what an art market should aim for, Lee shares that it should bring people together and spark conversation about arts and creation.

“It sounds simple, but it is not as easy as it sounds. But there has been perseverance and these days, art markets are popping up not only in Klang Valley, but all over Malaysia. It is a good sign that hobbyists and young artists are keen to step out and join art markets to showcase their works.

“There is also more interest overall in art markets among the public; more people are cultivating an appreciation for art or handmade crafts,” she adds.

Indeed, there are some new faces in the art market scene. One such new kid on the block is Artscape, which kicked off its first edition (Artscape Ver 1.0) with art pieces by 16 illustrators, artists, designers, doodlers and everything in between, at the end of April in Cyberjaya.

“We managed to pull quite a crowd and the event went very well. We are still receiving many messages from artists expressing their interest to join our next event.

“Overall, we are glad that we fulfilled our priorities, which is to promote new and emerging artists, raise awareness with Malaysian Nature Society to protect our nature and wildlife, and inspire new artists to participate in the next round,” says Bryan Chui, who established Artscape together with Adeline Shatsala early this year.

Kaka Arts Market, which started in 2010, has made it a point to include niche arts and craft. Photo: Kaka Art Market

There are many ways to support local artists even if you are on a tight budget, he says – which includes attending art exhibitions, markets, bazaars and other art-related events.

“Art is something that truly nurtures the human spirit. At Artscape, we believe that providing a platform and promoting artistic growth enriches the arts and culture in our society. Not only does a community connection give greater meaning to art, but the creative benefits have a measurable impact on our culture growth, which is a vital part of today’s economy.

“Whether the mission to to revitalise a city through arts, improve education through arts involvement or strengthen communities, local art scenes matter more than ever,” says Chui.

The next Artscape takes place at Commune Event Hall, Sunway Velocity Mall in KL on Sept 28 and 29.

Marty Woods, one of the artists at Artscape Ver 1.0, was “discovered” through social media because he posted his freehand drawings online. “I believe that these bazaars, exhibitions, workshops, markets … they provide exposure, build your reputation as an artist, and eventually connects you to the right person, who will pick up on your value and talent,” says Woods.

Fellow artist Sarah Salim considers herself an introvert who is happiest when drawing in her studio. But meeting people in person – especially those who are interested in her art – has made her realise that it is less scary to talk to strangers.

Andi Miranti, a comic book writer with autism, has also found an audience for his Ned Dickens series through arts-centred markets like ARTitude. Photo: Ned Dickens

“It feels like a meet-and-greet session at these pop-up events. The interaction is genuine, and it is easier to explain the artworks to people when they are in front of you,” says Sarah.

After participating in Artscape, Sarah has received several invitations to conduct doodle workshops and drawing commissions.

Another active market is ARTitude Curated Bazaar, helmed by Goh Lee Kwang, who has worked on Art For Grabs events.

About a year old now, it has been held in locations such as Publika and 2HK in KL, and Jaya One in PJ.

“We have a very simple agenda: ARTitude is a platform for arts and craft makers to showcase their works. We do what we can to make the artists and crafters more visible. This bazaar might be new, but I am not new to the scene and I approach it like every other project I am involved in: to aim for endless possibilities,” says Goh, a multidisciplinary artist.

ARTitude Curated Bazaar aspires to help introduce artists to the community at large.

It champions local, handmade art in particular, and aspires to stay independent from big brand names.

From a list of emerging independent visual artists and popular clay craft outfit Moo Creative Art Studio right to Andi Miranti, a comic book writer with autism, and Finders Keepers, a batik-influenced handmade backpack maker, the diversity of art-related vendors at ARTitude cannot be denied.

“It’s always about finding a good balance. All kinds of art can co-exist in a market space,” says Goh.

Market

A girl holds up a work from a handmade bag painting session from MUOC. Photo: MUOC

“My idea of a successful bazaar is one that encourages the artists to collectively put together a better bazaar the next time, and not just repeat themselves. It all goes back to creating those endless possibilities and I think we are on the right track,” he adds.

ARTitude will help curate a bazaar at the Sentul Festival 2019, Sentulraya Boulevard in KL on Aug 17 and 18.

One of the regulars at ARTitude is homegrown brand MUOC, which stands for Malaysian Unity of Culture.

You might have seen some of its products, including Malaysiana-inspired pop-up cards to postcards, bags and ceramics.

Founder Yew Souf shares that he likes being a part of ARTitude because of its dedication to local handmade arts and crafts.

He notes that there are many events that call themselves “art markets”, but have instead become a place for sellers to push cheap trinkets and mass market accessories.

“I like the focus on local artists at ARTitude. This is a place where we make connections with other vendors and learn from each other.

“Collaborations are especially critical in a country like Malaysia where the scene is relatively small, and many artists feel like they lack funding. I believe it can help the industry flourish if we work together,” concludes Yew.