St. Johnsbury is bustling, with another record-breaking year of new businesses and exciting events and activities in every season. Much of this bustle seems to be driven by a decidedly creative group of community members. The creative economy–which encompasses economic development activities that include the arts, culture, design, makers, and artisanal products of all kinds–makes up a large proportion of our local economy. The report, ‘Building on a Legacy of Creativity: Understanding and Expanding the Creative Economy of the Northeast Kingdom’ (Vermont Creative Network, 2018), found that the concentration of creative industries is 31% higher in the Northeast Kingdom than in the rest of the country. Discover St. Johnsbury wants to learn more about how this is affecting St. Johnsbury’s growth, so I've set out to interview a selection of both new and established creative business owners downtown to share their stories and insights with you. Read on for our interview featuring Michelle Faye, owner of Chrysalis Creative.
Chrysalis Creative is a community sewing hub and maker space that opened at 75 Eastern Avenue in June 2022. www.chrysaliscreative.org
Director, Gillian Sewake: Tell us about what you offer at Chrysalis Creative.
Chrysalis Creative Owner, Michelle Fay: The studio is a creative maker space for modern sewists. It’s a place where people can learn to sew by taking classes, and connect with fellow makers during open studio time or “sew-cials”. We’re also a fabric and notions thrift shop; people donate their unused fabric stashes, and we make them available at a low cost.
Sewake: What made you decide that the time was right for you to open the shop?
Fay: I needed to get out of my bedroom! I was craving a creative outlet and connection after two years of isolation working from home, and was drawn to the energy being generated by the renovation of the New Avenue property and businesses like Haven and Art & Joy.
Sewake: Has your business concept evolved?
Fay: My initial concept of monthly memberships is going to switch to a punch-card system where people can get discounted access to studio time. It’s clear that classes and special events are what bring people in, so I’m hoping to bring more creatives in to host events.
Sewake: How would you describe your relationship to making and creativity?
Fay: I grew up on a dairy farm, where making things was a blend of culture, necessity, and creativity. There was a line for me between Art (with a capital A) and the sort of crafting/making that I engaged in. Now I’m much more inclusive in my view of creativity. Mine’s a blend of my need for expression, my values around reducing consumption and building resilient local economies, and the singular state of flow that I find when I’m creating. It kills my back, but it feeds my soul.
Sewake: How do you see creativity at work in St. Johnsbury?
Fay: I’ve lived in St. Johnsbury since 1997 - about half my life. Thanks to institutions like the Athenaeum, Catamount Arts, Fairbanks Museum, and the NEK Artisans Guild this community is a creative powerhouse. For a community of our size to have this many cultural resources is really exceptional. Having these entities alongside the relatively high poverty of our area brings a certain tension, though, that we need to work through. Creativity and the arts should be inclusive, build a sense of belonging, and strengthen our community, not be the reason that we further marginalize people who are struggling. Hopefully we can continue to leverage our creative assets to build a community where everyone belongs, and everyone can thrive.
Sewake: What are you looking forward to this year?
Fay: Connecting with more creatives and finding ways to bring sewing to new audiences. I’d love to work with area nonprofit organizations to host making and mending circles. I think we’re just starting to uncover the massive amounts of unused fabric lurking in people’s attics and closets - let’s find a purpose for it! And finally, I want to raise awareness about the shocking human and environmental exploitation that is the foundation of the global fashion and textile industries. Strengthening our local economy, buying less, buying local, buying better quality products and helping them last is a tangible way for us to heal our broken systems, one beautiful stitch at a time.
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