Although some are business analysts or firefighters by day, and others focus on their art full time, the local artists and artisans of Fusion share a passion for the handmade. Together, their efforts have created a co-op in Chesterfield Mall that is filled with truly unique creations.
The original seven members of Fusion met through Etsy, an online marketplace and community for anything handmade. In March 2009, they banded together to open a shop in Crestwood Court's ArtSpace, called Show-Me Handmade. They did all right in their ten-month stint there, but the mall was slowly dying around them. When Dan Tierney of the Regional Arts Commission asked if they'd like to join Artopolis, a group of six shops owned by and featuring local artists and craftsmen at , they jumped at the opportunity to move to a healthier retail environment.
"We needed something that was a little more visible. Something that needed to have flow through it. This is perfect," said Connie Seedig, one of the original partners.
Seedig, self-proclaimed wino and owner of Life UnCork'd, makes cork boards and other useful creations out of used wine corks. Elizabeth Lemp, another Fusion founder, makes . Amy Poos of Twice Baked Arts crafts clocks, coasters and more out of recycled glass bottles. Frozen Liquid Art is a family of glassworkers; the firefighter dad specializes in glass balls and vases, the mom creates glass beads, and the son makes glass sculptures. There are ten other artists selling their wares at Fusion currently, each offering something a little different.
"(People) come in here and they find something that's totally different and unique that they can't go to Walmart, Target or any of the big box stores for," Seedig said. "We have a lot of people who come through here and say, 'You know, my wife has everything.' I'm like, 'Walk around. You'll find something that she doesn't have yet.' "
Artists who want to join the co-op fill out an application and send in photographs or examples of their work. The board of directors then votes on whether or not they should include that type of work in the store. When artists want to add a new type of work to their inventory, that must be voted on as well. This way, they keep a variety of items in the store without ending up with too much of one thing—jewelry, for example, they sometimes have to turn down.
Running a business collectively with a bunch of artsy types hasn't been without its difficulties. None of them had any retail experience at the beginning, but they have been able to piece together their backgrounds in graphic design, sales, theatre, technology and accounting in order to work things out as they go.
"Thankfully, we had a good enough variety of background to where we all just kind of fed off each other," Seedig said. "It's just so funny because we seem to all click, too. You get a bunch of women together and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it really works."
"We all evolved, learned so much at Crestwood about what not to do, what to do," Lemp said. For instance, they originally accepted consignments. People would drop off art and get the money when it sold. After they moved to Chesterfield and became Fusion, they stopped this practice.
"We wanted people to be involved and have an ownership of their items," Lemp said. "If they're part of the store they're going to keep their display up, they're going to change things out, they're going to clean their area."
So far, they said business has been very good for Fusion, especially over the holiday season. When they moved in at the beginning of last year, their wing of the mall had been dead for two years. Now, they get about the same amount of foot traffic as the rest of the mall.
"It is a win-win situation because a dead space to a mall is death. So we're filling the space, people are happy, people are talking about it, and it makes this part of the mall alive," Lemp said.
The next big Artropolis event is a Mardi Gras Gallery Hop on March 4. Fusion's slice of the festivities will feature live painting by Marley Art, face-painting by Dana Diaz de Leon and beaded necklaces by Melissa Villadiego.
Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of stories about Artropolis. Future stories will continue to focus on each business within the group. The series, Mall Masterpieces, runs weekly on Mondays. The at the group of stores as a whole and their progress in their first year.