The Dark Arts Market is finding an audience for its celebrations of the charmingly macabre and the strangely beautiful
It’s a Friday the 13th. We park in the crowded dirt lot by Artifice. As we wait for the light to change at the Charleston Boulevard crosswalk, I notice the population around us. They’re clad mostly in black, fishnet stockings make an appearance or two, and there are piercings, tattoos, and hair in magnificent colors only found in rainbows. But there are also strollers, toddlers, teens, and everything in between. The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty is for the whole (Addams) family. After all, the family that’s weird together stays together. And, according to founder Erin Emre, “lots of weirdness” is one of the market’s best features.
As the name implies, the event showcases vendors who deal in the macabre, dabble in the peculiar, but, most important, deliver artistry. Once inside Cornish Pasty, we — along with many others; the back room and billiard area are both brimming — examine tables decorated in chilling craftsmanship. An assortment of jars containing reptiles suspended in clear liquid churns my stomach. In stark contrast, the neighboring table is home to dainty tea cups, each emblazoned with a single, shiny gold, not-safe-for-work word. There are also coffin-shaped shelving units and intricate jewelry in all the many shades of black.
My husband lingers by a fluffy white taxidermied jackalope with millennial-pink glossy eyes, wearing a floral prairie dress. I recognize the look in his eyes and tell him we should take her home; he sighs and reveals the price tag. It’s completely justified, but sadly out of our range. My luck is better, and I snag a matte sea-foam-green tiki mug starring a menacing and beautifully textured aquatic creature. We continue to navigate the crowd, waiting for our table, as a charismatic sword-swallower takes the stage.
Emre began The Dark Arts Market as a small gathering after traditional festivals and arts venues rejected her for being “too weird.” But something about this small gathering has struck a chord in the community, and attendance has been increasing steadily. I meet Emre at the urban farm McKee Ranch, her workplace, to discuss the Market. While redressing a fly-covered bandage for Duncan, a burro, she explains the increase in turnout as a response to the event’s humility and lack of pretension. She describes it as “dinner with friends” — particularly challenging for someone who characterizes herself as an “antisocial hermit type.”
She makes a concentrated effort because what started out as a defiant middle finger to the venues that rejected her has morphed into a platform for emerging artists, some who are still figuring out how to make money creating the unusual things they love. In our conversation, punctuated by rooster crows and goat bleats, Emre stresses time and again the importance of that platform and getting those artists seen.
“The biggest challenge is to keep pushing forward so that these kids have a platform, ’cause it’s not about me anymore,” she says. At first glance, this “accidental promoter” might seem like a contradiction — a warm, welcoming smile surrounded by labyrinthine face tattoos, the bright sunshine of McKee Ranch in contrast to the darkness of the Market. Emre, however, is nothing if not consistent: The care provided to Duncan sprouts from the same heart that’s pushing boundaries and encouraging creativity.
Thinking about the future, she says, “Some people want it to get bigger; I really like the homey feeling.” The Market feels DIY in the best sense of the acronym — it’s the embodiment of forging something out of nothing. “The owners of Cornish Pasty, they’re amazing,” she says. “For the last three times that we’ve done the Dark Arts Market, they’ve allowed us to come and set up for no charge. To me, that’s what supporting the artist really means.” This allows Emre to charge vendors a smaller fee, helping ensure the evening will be profitable for them.
The one-night-only Market normally takes place on Fridays the 13th. However, since we’ve run out of those this year, Saturday the 13th will have to do. There was no way Emre would pass up the chance to mount Dark Arts Market during October, the most appropriate month. Cornish Pasty is on board to host the free bizarre bazaar again, but keep an eye on social media just in case. During this month’s event, Market-goers can look forward to artists selling ghoulish wares, more arresting sideshow performances, insect pinning, and the Hearse Kids, who will have a variety of hearses on display for the funereally inclined. What better way to set the mood for Halloween celebrations to come?
Of course, the real draw will be the sense of camaraderie and family among those who might be just a little too strange or different for the rest of the world.
THE DARK ARTS MARKET October 13, 7p-midnight, Cornish Pasty Company, 10 E. Charleston Blvd., $5, facebook.com/darkartsoddities