Making Space for Makers in Portland

Portland's My People’s Market has created opportunities for local makers and entrepreneurs who need a platform — and the events, tourism, and hospitality industries are a part of the mix.

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

woman in colorful costume at outdoor market

My People’s Market allows artists and crafts people a chance to share their work with the public. The 14th edition of the market was held June 8-9, 2024, at the Redd East, a space owned by local environmentally focused nonprofit Ecotrust.

Head wraps made from African fabrics, hand-embroidered clothing stitched by a Salvadoran-American textile artist, and minimalist silver jewelry crafted from recycled metals — this is just a sample of what you’ll see while strolling around the booths at My People’s Market. A biannual marketplace designed to put makers, artists, and entrepreneurs from Portland’s diverse communities in the spotlight, My People’s Market has created an opportunity for up-and-coming small businesses that need a platform, “that are really grinding to launch a company or are operating out of their home,” said Amanda Park, senior project manager, Portland events and film, for Prosper Portland. “It brings them together so that they can make connections.”

My People’s Market is now the largest BIPOC-centered marketplace in the Pacific Northwest.

My People’s Market is the brainchild of Travel Portland and Prosper Portland, the city’s economic development and urban renewal agency. Prosper Portland, the main entity behind producing the event, subsidizes the cost of participating to make it affordable for vendors. The market started as a way to connect local makers and entrepreneurs with the buying power of the events, tourism, and hospitality industries, but when the first marketplace — held in 2017, with about 50 businesses participating and 1,000 visitors in attendance — went well, the founders opened it up to the public. Since then, interest has spiked. My People’s Market is now the largest BIPOC-centered marketplace in the Pacific Northwest, with a vendor list that averages 150 and attendance frequently topping 4,000.

Park, who describes Portland’s maker community as “part of the fabric of our city” sees the event as a pathway for makers to create successful small businesses, especially for those who are from underrepresented backgrounds or are early in their careers. After the first public My People’s Market, the response from participating makers was overwhelmingly positive: “The vendors had expressed that they hadn’t felt this kind of community at a market before,” Park said, and that “they hadn’t felt so comfortable and included and represented … folks literally cried because it just was so moving to not be the outlier — not the only Black or the only Latina person in the room — just to feel like you were the priority.”

My People’s Market also has caught the attention of visiting groups like NCORE, the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity and Higher Education, which timed its 2021 conference to overlap with the event after attendees had experienced the market during a previous conference. Travel Portland also has coordinated abbreviated, pop-up versions of My People’s Market for visiting conventions. The 2022 Public Libraries Association (PLA) Conference, a gathering of 5,000 professionals, featured a selection of the market’s vendors on site at the Oregon Convention Center during their event, held March 23-25.

people dancing

Along with makers selling their wares, My People’s Market is a mashup of Portland’s multicultural communities, with performances, food, music, and more on display.

Melissa Faubel Johnson, CMP, PLA’s meeting and special events planner, worked closely with Travel Portland to cherry pick eight to 10 vendors aligned with the association’s focus on EDISJ (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice). The chosen vendors set up booths in the convention center’s hallways and public spaces, specifically timed with meals and breaks to allow for plenty of foot traffic. “I think the shorter pop-ups make for a better experience for the vendors and create more excitement and buzz for attendees,” Johnson said. “Attendees loved meeting the vendors, hearing their stories, and supporting local small businesses with a focus on EDISJ. Some of our attendees don’t have time to shop and sightsee during their time at the conference, so this is a small way to bring the city to the attendees.”

Not only did the vendors align with PLA’s initiatives around EDISJ, but the pop-up makerspace itself was a natural fit. PLA has featured makerspaces at its conference for the past 10 years, reflecting how the maker culture is embraced by their members. “Libraries are an ideal setting for makerspace events,” Johnson said, “and every year we partner with one of our library teams to bring their makerspace ideas to the conference for attendees to enjoy and also learn ways to bring it back to their library community. It’s always a popular and busy spot at the show.”

Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.

girl and woman at table displaying crafters' work

The 14th edition of My People’s Market, “is the marketplace re-imagined — a gathering of Portland’s diverse and vibrant entrepreneurs, makers, artists, culinary wizards, and beverage crafters.”


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