Madison Brown, 19, sits on her couch, her fingers frantically moving while looping thin, burgundy yarn in and out to prepare for the next Cooper-Young Festival.
She’s worked hard for the festival, her first time to attend and participate as a vendor, but the young woman is already inspired for the next year.
A native of Arkansas, Brown is excited for the opportunity to introduce her knitted goods to the community at a festival environment that is not offered in her small town.
“It was nice seeing the faces of people that are interested in or purchasing my work because I may not get to meet them otherwise when selling items online,” Brown said.
The Cooper-Young community has been bringing artists and local customers together for 31 years, starting in 1988.
At the time, crime and deteriorating property values tainted the Cooper-Young district, locals saw an opportunity and formed The Cooper-Young Business Association with 60 members to bring people and businesses back to the area.
Tamara Cook, the executive director of The Cooper-Young Business Association, started working with the organization in 1999 after attending the festival in the 80s before assuming her position.
“The vendors back then were sort of like a bake sale or a church kind of thing with people selling brownies, and there were people that had plants,” Cook said. “It wasn’t really the art venue that it is today.”
The festival continues to grow, with an estimated 130,000 people expected for this year’s festival according to Cook.
Along with an increase in attendance, the number of vendors has grown. Organizers expect up to 435 vendors and artisans this year, Cook said.
The festival is also a marketing opportunity for larger businesses in Memphis to access the community through sponsorships of the festival and booths of their own.
Kevin Won, 21, a student of Memphis College of Art, helped with the college’s booth that sold artwork created by students who volunteered, including prints, buttons and stickers.
“Especially with MCA closing, it’s important to show our work and continue to stay involved in the community before the school is shut down,” Won said.
As the festival continues to grow, these sponsorships are of even more important to cover the cost of the event.
“The bigger it gets, the more it costs,” Cook explained.
However, the mission of the festival remains the same with all the profit going back into the neighborhood and back to nonprofits located in Cooper Young, Cook said.
Brown said she will absolutely participate in next years’ festival saying, “it [the festival] was really overwhelming and hot, but overall it was a great experience and a wonderful way to see Memphis and connect with other smaller artists.”