March 23, 2023

Bringing the Community Together Through Craft

This story was written prior to the violence experience on MSU’s campus Feb. 13, 2023, and makes reference to the MSU Union, which may be triggering to readers. We wanted to present the story as it was initially intended: to recognize the efforts and impact of the many Spartan Community members who made this wonderful event possible. 

Every December in East Lansing, when snow covers the sidewalks and winter coats and boots are out, the MSU Union draws in thousands of people for its Winter Arts and Crafts show. Beginning 59 years ago, this winter show was initiated by then University Activity Boards (UAB) Manager Colleen Hennessy to be a “holiday” show modeled after the East Lansing Arts Festival. The idea was to use the show as a source of income for the programming board to fund student events, says Cathy Fitzpatrick, director of the MSU Union and Alumni Memorial Chapel. Today, it is held the first week of December and hosts more than 120 artists and crafters along with upwards of 8,000 guests and patrons, made up of students, faculty and staff as well as the greater Lansing community. 
Having worked with the show for about 20 years herself, Cathy finds it to be a fun and festive meeting place for old friends to meet and connect while shopping arts and crafts, something she herself has also done at the show.  
“Seeing groups of shoppers attend the show year after year is amazing,” she says.  
She believes the show builds community by providing an opportunity for people from MSU, the 
greater Lansing area, and even further away to come together and enjoy some holiday and winter shopping.  
“It gives an opportunity to some who have never been to MSU or the MSU Union to experience hospitality at its best,” says Cathy. 
There are multiple goals the show hopes to accomplish. First and foremost, it is a large-scale fundraiser that allows UAB to host events for the student community, mostly for free. The UAB holds about four events a week, all on campus and alcohol free. Not only does it provide employment and learning to the student coordinators who plan these events, but also gives them opportunities for skill development.  
UAB also “provides MSU students with safe environments to connect with other students and create Spartan memories,” says Sara Stratilatov, UAB assistant director.  
The proceeds from the booth fee for the show go directly to the UAB budget for such events. The fundraiser is also “a beloved community tradition that supports handcrafted artists and crafts, and it also provides a place for local community members to find unique items,” she says. 
Sara is also the show lead for both the Winter and Spring Arts and Crafts shows. She plans, coordinates and implements all aspects of the show and is also involved in the artist and crafter selection process.  
The show highlights unique artists and crafters across many mediums and does not allow wholesale or resell items. Products must have “handcrafted” elements. These could be items such as pottery and jewelry made by the artist or crafter, or digital works by designers or illustrators printed on T-shirts. Applications for having a booth at the show open in August and there are several rounds to guarantee acceptance. The show planners ensure artists and crafters meet their regulations and contribute to the holistic balance of the show with a variety of mediums, prints and styles. Booth mapping is also done in a way to help artists and crafters be assigned to locations in which they will do well and provide a fun experience to guests. 
Cathy highlighted the integral role played by the MSU Union staff in ensuring the smooth running and consistent success of the Winter Arts and Crafts Show. She says they do an outstanding job of preparing and restoring the building both before and after the show.  
“When you walk into the building the Monday after the show, you’d never know that over 8,000 guests and 120 crafters had been in the building!” she says.  
Cathy also credits UAB students and staff with organizing booth spaces, coordinating volunteers, making sure information booths are always staffed, handing out show maps, and then wrapping up smoothly. 
The show has been a success at the MSU Union for 59 years now, and is loved by students, staff, faculty, and the Lansing community alike. UAB receives strong positive responses from the MSU community and patrons of the show consistently. Guests and crafters of the show return year after year. 
Many have been with the show for 20 years and some for 40 years. It is widely considered a beloved tradition and as Cathy puts it, “The community absolutely loves the show. I think there might be protests if it decided to end for some reason!” 

Spartan helmet