This article first appeared in Kidsburgh.org, a media partner of NEXTpittsburgh that focuses on making Pittsburgh a better place to raise kids.

Trust Handmade Arcade to find a way to bring Pittsburgh’s youth makers back into the mix — big time.

With a successful small event for emerging makers held in August at Construction Junction, Handmade Arcade’s organizers are now preparing for the Winter Marketplace and rebooting the Youth Maker Scholarship program to give young people the first-rate interaction with customers they’ve been waiting for since the pandemic began.

“We want to make this as enriching an experience as possible,” says Tricia Brancolini-Foley, executive director of Handmade Arcade. “In the past, we’ve had youth makers who fall into all the categories that our professional makers do. It’s really fun and creative, in a way, because it brings a different feel, a trendier, younger sort of feeling to the marketplace.”

Kidsburgh talked with Brancolini-Foley about the organization’s plans to support youth makers and entrepreneurs, ages 13-19, throughout the year.

Photo by Joey Kennedy.

Question: The Youth Maker Scholarship program was virtual in 2020. What’s the plan for its reboot?

Answer: We started the scholarship program in 2018 with two makers. We accepted 10 in 2019, and then in 2020, we had some do a virtual marketplace. For 2021, we aren’t sure how many youth makers we’re going to accept; we’ll see how many applicants we get. Applications are open now through Friday, Sept. 10, and those who are accepted will be notified on Monday, Sept. 13.

Q: What does acceptance in the program offer to youth makers?

A: They each get a $500 stipend for materials and they’ll get a free standard-size booth at the marketplace. We want to make sure everything is equitable and everyone comes prepared, so we’ll provide them with tablecloths and help them set up their tables. [An $8,000 grant from the Grable Foundation pays for these materials.] We’ll hold pre-event virtuals to talk to them about marketing and setting up a booth. I’d like to have that in person, but we want to make it accessible to all kids. Many of these are students who have a lot of things going on, so if it’s virtual we can record it and they can watch it when they have time.

All of the kids will get assigned a professional maker-mentor so they can ask questions and work together on their products. Their mentors and I are available to help them prepare for the event. I’ll do weekly check-ins. When they apply, they provide pictures of what they make and they’ll have to come up with an inventory plan. We give them a calendar and send them “goals and milestones” to keep them on track, so they aren’t scrambling to make stuff at the last minute.

Photo courtesy of Handmade Arcade.

Q: What’s new this year for the event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center?

A: The event will be twofold — a virtual marketplace that launches on Small Business Saturday [Nov. 27] and runs through Cyber Monday [Nov. 29]. Then the in-person event will start with a ticketed happy hour on Friday, Dec. 3, so we can control the crowd size but let people shop for two and a half hours — it’s our only fundraiser of the year. On Saturday, Dec. 4, the vendors will be at their booths for ticketed, early-bird shopping from 10-11 a.m., before the event opens to the public from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.We’ll have Covid safety protocols in place. At the Convention Center, they’re wonderful people to work with and the room that we’re in is huge — it’s got high ceilings, great airflow — and we’re not going to have as many makers on the floor as we’ve had in the past so that we’ll have more space between the aisles and tables. If things get bad again with the pandemic, we’re not going to cancel; we could possibly do timed tickets where you sign up for shopping hours.

Photo courtesy of Handmade Arcade.

Q: In addition to the money they can make, what makes youths want to participate in Handmade Arcade?

A: The most important thing is having the interaction with people who come to Handmade Arcade — it’s a priceless experience. You can’t recreate it. And because it’s a holiday market, people want to buy things. They’re very invested in the Pittsburgh arts and culture scene and they want to support the makers. They like to see these younger folks getting out there and having entrepreneurial spirit.One of the pillars of Handmade Arcade is our education component — both webinars and in person. We teach people about marketing and social media content; we do some e-commerce. We go through the idea of making the most of the gift market, how to plan your business for the holiday market and strategies to prepare. We talk about photography, which is so important in this age of digital. And we talk about how to follow through and customer retention. With youth makers, we also teach them how to present at an event — setting up a table and interacting with people who come to your booth. You need to smile, be friendly. People are more likely to buy things from someone who says hello than from someone sitting at their table looking at their phone.

Photo courtesy of Handmade Arcade.

Q: How many youth makers do you anticipate in 2021?

A: Our youth maker group has been extremely diverse, in terms of background and identity, and that plays a role sometimes in what they make — they express themselves in the art that they’re creating. So I’m always excited to see what the applications bring. We’ll have 10 tables set aside for them, although I expect applications may be lower this year. Some of the summer camps we’ve worked with in the past had to change their models, so we didn’t have that funneling this year. We’ve reached out to other people who work with kids in this age group, and we also work with Artists Image Resource, students from Pittsburgh CAPA, and makers from Real World Scholars. And we’re members of the Remake Learning network.

Maker spaces are just starting to reopen to young people. This year it’s going to be a little harder to get students in, but we want to keep the program going.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.