A table full of wares being sold at the art market, such as zines, keychains, and a bucket labeled "cursed objects." A sign reads "Queer AF."
Community is at the center of the QuARTz queer art market. First-time vendors are welcome, and entry is free. (Emma Hegenbart)

On April 16, QuARTz held their monthly Queer Art Market at the Lake Merritt Pergola in Oakland. QuARTz is an East Bay queer arts collective. The market hosted 13 vendors, each selling unique art, goods, and services. People were selling jewelry, pins, patches, vintage clothing, crocheted tops and bags, and one vendor was selling card readings. The event’s official timeframe was from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m., but often the event goes until sunset. There were about 30 people there at any given time. People wandered through the event, looking at what the various vendors were selling. Music was playing, and the vendors all seemed to know each other and be happy to be in community.

I got to speak with a few of the organizers behind QuARTz. They described QuARTz as not having a set structure of organizers, but instead, everyone takes part in making the events happen. QuARTz’s art markets started from a post on Lex, a queer social app. Tiana posted on Lex to see if anyone would be interested in setting up a queer art market in Oakland. Al and Rizza responded to Tiana’s post, and the three of them met up at Lake Merritt, starting the monthly queer art markets. 

When it came to creating the queer art markets, all three of the original organizers stressed the importance of creating a space for vendors with a low barrier to entry. Tiana emphasized that anyone can participate. “It can be someone’s first time vending,” they said. Al explained that they were finding it difficult to vend because most markets have entry fees, which can be a barrier to entry for someone who hasn’t sold anything.” Rizza also voiced similar concerns about being a vendor at most markets: “When you pay for an event, no one is setting you up for success.” Tiana explained that they wanted to create a market where you didn’t have to sell a certain amount to break even or make a profit. Their goal was to create a space where everyone could have a good time. “It’s not about selling, it’s about being here.” 

Rizza explained how they cultivated an environment of community connectedness and created a market that felt like a party, “We don’t want to make it an environment where you have to work. It should be about having fun. It’s not about what you offer; it’s about being here.” Tiana expressed that the queer art markets are also about sharing whatever you have to offer if you can. They explained that sometimes people just bring snacks or bottles of water. Additionally, Al stressed that everyone who participates is a part of making the events happen.

“We’re horizontally organized, not hierarchical,” they said. From Al’s perspective, the markets really serve as an opportunity to give momentum to someone’s art. Al expressed that it “felt empowering to participate in this way and make it a welcoming space for people to participate in all different ways.” QuARTz has continued to grow and welcome new vendors. They also participate in collaboration with other organizations and collectives in the East Bay. They will continue to prioritize creating a fun and welcoming space for all. Rizza said, “As we grow, everyone grows.” 

QuARTz hosts queer art markets every third Saturday of the month at Lake Merrit Pergola from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. In May, instead of the usual market, there will be a Queer Artz Party from 12:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Defremery Park in Oakland on Saturday, May 21. To keep up with events hosted by QuARTz, follow @QuartzOakland on Instagram. 

Emma Hegenbart is a Youth Spirit Artworks intern who is currently working on developing the Street Spirit events calendar.