'It's such a joy': The Blue Genie Art Bazaar is back for the 2021 holiday season
The Blue Genie Art Bazaar – Austin’s yearly holiday show and sale featuring arts and crafts from up to 200 local artists – was first held in 2001. That first year, the show was small and hastily-planned; Blue Genie employees put up some lights and swept the floor of their studio and then opened the doors to sell some of their own items and pretty much nothing else. Much to their surprise, the reaction was positive enough to encourage them to do it again the next year and the year after that. The bazaar has returned every holiday season since, growing bigger every time, eventually featuring the works of some 200 local artists.
That yearly growth ended in 2020, when the pandemic forced Blue Genie to scale back and do things a little differently, resulting in a 20th Anniversary show that wasn’t quite what they’d originally hoped for. “We put a lot of energy into figuring what we could do, how to do it, and how to be able to pivot, you know, should we need to pivot. But most importantly, how to make our customers feel as safe as we could,” says Blue Genie co-founder Dana Younger. “And so last year we limited our capacity to 50% of what the fire marshal says is okay, and we asked people to make reservations to guarantee that they could get in. And it all worked fine. And our very supportive and generous Austin community of art supporters came out. And it was enough for us to eke by and to live to tell about it another day. And so here we are.”
Some of the changes made for 2020 are sticking around for the 2021 version of the bazaar, Younger says. “You know, we did some creative things last year. We launched a web store, so we have a website now where you can also look at and buy cool Austin art. And we did a personal shopping service that was kind of fun,” he says. “So both of those advents of the pandemic have carried forward.”
Since the Covid vaccine became widely available between the holiday seasons of 2020 and 2021, Younger says in-person shopping at the bazaar is looking more like the old days again. “We are still keeping our capacity down a little bit from what the fire marshal says we can max out at, and we’re keeping our finger on the pulse of what feels comfortable,” he says. “We want people to feel comfortable. We are encouraging folks to wear masks.”
Younger says he’s happy to see customers and artists come back to the bazaar this year. “It’s such a joy to hear our audience talking about how fun it is be there, how they’re excited to see artists that they’re familiar with, or see new things, how they’re enjoying being out with their family and their friends, and doing things they haven’t been able to do,” he says. “And how they’re treating themselves to some great local handcrafted items.”
This year’s bazaar features the works of around 170 artists, and as usual, there’s a mix of returning favorites and first-time participants. One of the artists showing his work this year is Younger himself, who says that one of the silver linings of the past year and a half is that he’s had more time to create art again. One of the ironies of being an artist running a large art show is that all of those administrative duties don’t leave a lot of time for actually creating art. The protracted lockdown period changed that for Younger, though. “I’ve been finding a lot of time to make stuff, and [I’m] really enjoying it,” he says. “I always was kind of like, ‘Eh, I’m too busy putting on the show and doing my other jobs and things.’ But then I was like, ‘This is crazy. I should have a spot [in the show].’ It’s super fun. The validation, you know, that creatives get from people appreciating what they’re doing? Man, it’s real. It’s great.”