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Behind the Magic of Blue Genie Art Bazaar

Learn how this beloved Austin art market and holiday tradition got its start

Entry into Blue Genie Art Bazaar (photo by Annie Winsett)

A source of holiday excitement for over two decades, we’re unwrapping the origin story of the gift that keeps giving back to the Austin art community with a market made for them. 

“Markets are grueling,” Dana Younger, one of the founders of Blue Genie Art Bazaar, explains, “as we were sitting there, we were like, ‘Oh my God, if we ever make a show, we’re not going to have people sitting in booths.’” Younger reminisces on the mind-numbing misery being posted up in markets just waiting for customers. It was a shared experience Younger and his team at Black Mountain Art faced in their early days of selling gargoyles molded by their team. They would drag them to booths only to spend hours hoping someone would come by to buy one.

From gargoyles to sculptures for iconic Austin brands

Back in the Nineties, thanks to Dana’s education and the happenstance of stumbling upon artists in Vermont sculpting gargoyles and his fellow Black Mountain Arts member, Kevin Collins, seeing gargoyles in a Toscano Catalog, the team decided to start making their own to sell at markets. Their success allowed them to grow and move out of South Austin into a sculpting service based in a warehouse on Springdale Road. There they made iconic Austin art you’ll see around town like the various Baby Devils for Torchys Tacos and lobby fixtures for Alamo Drafthouse. Black Mountain Arts then changed their name to Blue Genie Art Industries.

The Blue Genie (photo courtesy of Blue Genie Art Bazaar)

The early days of the holiday art market

Growing their crew to a collection of artists, they would host a pop-up market for the holiday season at their warehouse for their fellow sculptors to sell their wares without being present in the market. This take on the traditional art market quickly grew popular enough to warrant making the pop-up a permanent priority for the Blue Genie crew, comprised of the four Bazaar co-founders Chris Coakley, Rory Skagen, Kevin Collins, and Dana Younger.

The struggles of finding a permanent space in Austin’s real estate market

Organizing and hosting the Art Bazaar kept clashing with the sculpture fabrication side of their work, and eventually, the Bizarre won out in the battle of priorities. “It was a big leap for us to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to take this little thing that we do every Christmas for fun, and we’re going to prioritize it.” Moving it into the former Marchesa Theatre at Lincoln Village (now The Linc) in the Highland Mall neighborhood, Blue Genie became cemented in the Austin holiday season rotation for many locals. Suddenly, however, the Austin Film Society came to Blue Genie with news that they were taking over the theater space from them. While on excellent terms and even offering to still host the market in the future AFS Cinema, Blue Genie knew they needed more space as their legacy in the city grew. 

Facing a new era in the rapidly changing Highland area of Austin, next to the growing campus of ACC, the market for space was changing just as quickly. “We were looking at event venues that were going to cost a quarter of a million dollars for the month of December,” Younger explains, “ We were like, ‘well, that doesn’t make any sense. We could just get a space year-round and just use it at Christmas time, and it would still be cheaper than that. So that’s what we did.” Packing up and crossing the railroad tracks southwest of their former spot, Blue Genie found their home for the next several years at 6100 Airport Blvd. 

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Shoppers at Blue Genie Art Bazaar (photo by Annie Winsett)

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Looking for treasures at Blue Genie Art Bazaar (photo by Annie Winsett)

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Gifts for all ages can be found at Blue Genie Art Bazaar (photo by Annie Winsett)

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Shoppers at Blue Genie Art Bazaar (photo by Annie Winsett)

A shopping tradition that stands the test of time

Despite the changes to how people approach shopping since Blue Genie’s early days with the dawn of Amazon, to the shutdown days of the Pandemic, the Bazaar has stood firm against the rising tide of shifts in shopping habits. Yes, there is the never-ending beating of the “buy local” drum in Austin, even as more prominent brands move in. Still, Blue Genie credits its success to the community and tradition it inadvertently fostered. Younger talks about how he can’t count the numerous people who come up to him talking about how they came to the first shows with their babies, and now they’re here with their baby’s baby. “That’s gold, you know?” Younger smiles as he talks about how these connections to the bizarre warm his heart. “It took us a long time to understand that we were a part of people’s traditions.”

Welcome into the market (photo by Annie Winsett)

Supporting Austin’s vibrant community of artists

As the tradition of filling the warehouse with eager shoppers is here again, Younger wants to remind us that the Bazaar is more than just a fun tradition. It’s a means for us to show our support to the artists of Austin with our commerce. Our artists keep this city’s spirit alive, and in the season of giving, Blue Genie Art Bazaar is our chance to show up for Austin’s art community with each purchase. Artists can feel the love from afar instead of loathe their time stuck in a booth at a market, just as the Blue Genie crew intended.

The Blue Genie Art Bazaar is open from November 17 – December 24, 2023. You can also shop their online store at bluegenieartbazaar.com.