Gulf Coast Marketplace Brings Indoor Festival to Houma
by Gabrielle V. Espiritu
South Louisiana now has another festival to add to the list—and this one is indoors.
The Gulf Coast Marketplace will host its first festival June 23-24 inside the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center.
It has become a South Louisiana tradition to attend festivals and marketplaces that showcase the trades and works of local artisans and vendors. The Gulf Coast Marketplace gives those who call this area home the chance to see what art, clothing, woodwork and other assorted items are being created right here at home.
Most festivals take place annually or semiannually, but the Gulf Coast Marketplace never really closes.
That’s because, aside from the festival, the marketplace is a virtual website that allows customers to browse through locally made products online. It was started as an effort to help those who were affected by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The idea was for the marketplace to support members of the community financially.
“Many people who were affected by the oil spill had wonderful talents that some considered to be just hobbies,” said Brandi LeCompte, project manager for the Gulf Coast Marketplace. “We wanted to provide them opportunities to use those talents to help support their families.”
The marketplace itself is actually a project within a nonprofit organization called Options for Independence. Options, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, offer various projects and services designed to better communities and to help people throughout nine parishes in South Louisiana. The organization also assisted victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In developing the Gulf Coast Marketplace, BP provided funds to get the project under way. The website, which features a design modeled after an actual festival, presents a new way for customers to shop online.
The marketplace is filled with virtual tents and booths that customers can click on and explore. Folk artist Dottie Ratliff’s paintings, woodturner John Barrios’s wooden vases and deer antler ink pens, Lisa Scott’s wildlife photographs, and Brandy Perkins’s jewelry were among the first products available on the website. While many items are currently purchasable online, developers are working on the music and food sections of the site. Brandi said part of the plan is to make local music accessible to customers through the site as well.
The scope of the Gulf Coast Marketplace is expanding this summer with the festival, which will be held from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $2 per person, and children ages 12 and under are free.
Most local vendors experience slower business during the summer months because many of their sales occur at festivals held in the spring and fall.
It would be difficult to set up a festival during a South Louisiana summer because heat can become unpleasant to work and shop in. To buck the trend, the Gulf Coast Marketplace Festival will be held indoors. Nearly 100 vendors will be at the event, and festival goers can also enjoy musical performances as they browse through the diverse selections of products.
“We have jewelry, woodworking, books by Louisiana authors, soap, candles, etched glass, paintings, photography and much more to offer to shoppers,” Brandi said.
The many talents of the artisans are certainly evident in their work. Two areas of the virtual marketplace that are already filled with vendors are the book and art sections. Short biographies of the authors are found on their individual pages so visitors to the site can learn a bit more about those who created the products.
The marketplace has also proven to be an effective way for budding authors to become known and to let people know about their work. The books sold through the website are also of an interesting variety—visitors can find cookbooks, fictional novels and picture books for children.
The art section of the marketplace is also full of vendors with unique, beautiful work that showcases the personal style of each artist. Muralist Hans Geist sells some of his work through the marketplace. On June 23, Hans will be at the festival doing what he does best—painting murals. These murals will be donated to CASA of Terrebonne. Those at the festival will have the opportunity to help Hans with his paintings.
Photographers are also showcased through the marketplace website. Beautiful photographs that capture nature and South Louisiana culture can be browsed with just the scroll of a mouse.
Beautiful wooden pieces carved by woodturner John Barrios can be viewed online. For women seeking something new to add their wardrobes, handmade jewelry can be found in various designs and colors. Beautifully made, colorful candles are available, too.
The virtual marketplace even features items for young members of the family. There’s a children’s boutique, which features hair bows, crochet hats and more.
Charter fishing trips and swamp and wetlands tours are also offered by several companies through the website. Such opportunities present fun activities for tourists to enjoy when they are visiting South Louisiana. One of the project’s goals for the future is to bring more visitors to the area. Links to bed-and-breakfast inns are also accessible through the marketplace website.
The wide variety of local talent is perfectly showcased through the Gulf Coast Marketplace. Online, each vendor has his or her own booth, which contains his or her biography and products. The amount of creativity and talent in the marketplace can be seen by any shopper year-round, thanks to the website.
The festival in June will bring all of the beautiful work to life. Shoppers can meet the vendors personally and view the products.
The Gulf Coast Marketplace continues to expand as more vendors register as the festival approaches. A convenient, unique way for locals and visitors to see locally made products, the marketplace is heading in a positive direction.
“We would like to hold the indoor festival annually,” Brandi sa. “We want to create a fun and exciting event for the community to look forward to each year, while creating opportunities for sales and exposure for all of our vendors and performers.”