Royal Bison returns to its roots with in-person fair

· The Pulse
By Emily Rendell-Watson
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A beloved pillar in Edmonton's art and design scene returns in person next weekend. Royal Bison has operated its popular bi-annual craft fair online for the past two years, including a hybrid model of shopping online and at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre last December.

But organizer Vikki Wiercinski, who is also the designer behind Mezzaluna Studio, says it's time for the fair to re-focus on offering art and building community face-to-face.

"It's about so much more than shopping when you come to the Royal Bison," Wiercinski told Taproot. "A big goal of the event is to foster community in the art and design community and to support each other. It's challenging to do that if you can't meet each other — we've had vendors who didn't know each other who became BFFs over the weekend and then collaborated for years. That kind of magic just doesn't happen in the online space as much."

The move away from online was largely motivated by a desire to reconnect in person, but the challenges associated with hosting a fair both online and in-person at the same time, as well as the rising costs of shipping, also played a role. Despite the decision, Wiercinski acknowledges that hosting the fair online over the past two years offered a lifeline to independent makers in Alberta who have struggled during the pandemic.

"(Income from) the Royal Bison was able to help support me to pay my rent and pay for groceries when I was getting really close to needing to look for something else," said Colleen Fiddler, a Métis mixed media artist who sold her prints online at the last couple Royal Bison events.

Fiddler will have a table at the event between May 6 to 8 and is looking forward to meeting other artists. "These are people who I've been talking to online over the last couple of years, who I finally get to meet in person," she said, adding that Edmonton's community of artists has been crucial during the pandemic when "things were really isolating."

Two women look up at a display of terrariums and plants as others browse books in the background

The Royal Bison is back next weekend, with 70 vendors selling their wares out of the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre. (Supplied)

There will be 70 vendors at the fair, with 13 of them sharing their goods at Royal Bison for the first time.

Kejina Robinson of BLK ROSE Candle, who started her business during the pandemic, will be selling her hand-poured soy candles that celebrate Black stories. Handmade Edmonton-themed cribbage boards are up for grabs from Anthony and Alysha Eslava, who are the duo behind Ace Wood Co. Alexandra Stratkotter of Florals and Floss Embroidery will be selling her wildflower embroidery kits, and Cree artist Jess Sanderson-Barry of JShine Designs will have tanned hide and beadwork earrings on hand, and much more.

New this year is a bingo card that attendees can fill by visiting various booths for a chance at winning a tote bag full of swag. Coffee Bureau will also be on site offering sustenance for those selling and shopping.

There will be a new community table occupant each day, with Metro Cinema offering two-for-one Metro passes and movie posters on Friday, the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts showcasing work from its artists on Saturday, and CJSR and its crew participating on Sunday.

Tickets will be sold at the door for $4 each, and children under 12 enter for free.