University News

Bookstore pop-up supports local artists, economy

Organizers hope shop exposes students to broader Providence community

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A new pop-up inside the Brown Bookstore, Brown Shops Local, was launched earlier this month. The shop sells products ranging from jewlery to tote bags to greeting cards, all created by local artists. 

Situated next to the seating area of Blue State Coffee, the shop’s merchandise reflects themes such as environmental awareness and cultural expression. Brown Shops Local was spearheaded by the owners of Frog and Toad — Asher and Erin Schofield — and Katie Silberman ’94, the University’s community liaison. Working together with the Brown Bookstore, they solicited local artists for the venture to expose students to the “vibrant arts culture” in Providence and stimulate the local economy, said Asher Schofield.

“In any sort of academic life, it’s easy to be absorbed in the institution that you’re in,” Schofield said. The shop is designed to make students aware of the “broader city” that exists beyond Brown. The pop-up shop comprises a small portion of the creative talent in the area but could expose students to an artistic culture of which they might otherwise be unaware, Schofield said.

The venture also demonstrates the economic value of shopping locally, Schofield said.

When purchasing a piece at the shop, there are no middleman costs and buyers “know that the artist is getting well compensated for their time and work,” Schofield said. Buyers who purchase artisan products like David Allyn’s ceramic mugs, for example, are “supporting something more rich and vital than a factory-made ceramic mug at Target,” he added.

Pieces at the pop-up include quirky greeting cards, iconically American mugs and jewelry made from recycled skateboards.

Several artists developed work specifically tailored to Brown students by using University symbols such as the Van Wickle Gates, Schofield said. This work includes Allyn’s mugs and Maryann Fenton’s prints.

Among the most popular artwork created for the pop-up is a tote bag featuring the words “Lil’ Rhody” intertwined with an anchor, developed by Riverzedge Arts Project, a group Schofield said he was eager to involve in this initiative.

Riverzedge Arts Project is a nonprofit group employing underserved high school students in creative pursuits. The tote bag was designed by the high school students participating in the program, said Kim Keiter Johnson, print works director at Riverzedge.

The sales from the tote bags go directly back into the program, said Rebekah Greenwald Speck, executive director of Riverzedge.

Riverzedge has an existing relationship with Brown, Greenwald Speck said, adding that participation in the pop-up is “one of the many expressions of our relationship.” Riverzedge is “very grateful Brown values what we do outside of Providence,” she said.

Brown Shops Local has previously been around during the holiday season to encourage students to shop locally, Silberman said. This year, the Office of Communications expanded the initiative to make these goods available during the rest of the school year at affordable prices, she said.

Frog and Toad was the ideal organization to “curate the shop for us,” Silberman said, adding that Frog and Toad was instrumental in connecting Brown with local artists.

The bookstore has also been a “really wonderful” partner due to its “mission of promoting social good,” Silberman said.

Brown Shops Local will remain in place until the end of the school year, Silberman said. Students can post pictures of purchases from the pop-up to Twitter or Instagram with #BrownShopsLocal to win prizes, she added.

The emphasis on supporting local artists and economies is an important element of the project, Silberman said. Part of what makes Rhode Island great, she said, is the fact that you can “feel the networks of people supporting each other. If you have an idea, you can make it happen here.”