In only seven years, Artisans of the Emirates (ARTE) has grown from a humble group of 30 exhibitors to a network of more than 3,000 craftspeople based around the country.
The market returns from the summer on Friday in Dubai Festival City, followed by the ARTE Souk a week later, on September 14, which will be held at Times Square Center. The stalls at these ARTE events feature everything from pottery and jewellery to clothing and foodie treats, and each item sold is handmade in the UAE.
"In a mall, you see the same shops week-in and week-out, but at an ARTE Market you'll often find entirely different products each month," says Paul Townsend, a silversmith, who co-founded ARTE with Miriam Walsh in 2005.
"There are so many different cultures and nationalities in Dubai, and the market really represents that melting pot: I never cease to be amazed by what we're turning out."
Townsend explains there is a simple but decisive reasoning for who can exhibit at an ARTE event: "The products have to have been made in Dubai by the stallholders themselves. We've actually started asking for videos and pictures of stallholders in the act of making their product because our trade licence does not cover the sale of imported goods."
Townsend says that keeping imports out of the markets does two things - it prevents them from "becoming too Dragon Mart-esque", while pushing the handmade, local aesthetic that's a part of the ARTE philosophy. "We are getting to the point where we have to close bookings a week before each market because we're full. This is pushing us to get pickier about who is selling."
When and where
The ARTE Market takes place in the Festival Centre (close to Ikea) in Dubai Festival City on September 7. Townsend says it regularly attracts more artisans from India and Asia, and this means that a bit of hard haggling can go quite far.
The ARTE Souk on September 14 will have stalls from Europe, with a Continental slant to the fashion items in its stalls. The event will be spread across two floors in Times Square Mall, with nearly 170 sellers.
ARTE's co-founder Miriam Walsh says that Daril Atkins is one to watch at the first market on Friday.
A former medical worker from India, Atkins now turns his steady hand to sculpting objects that reflect the movement of animals in an abstract way. Celine Grey and Nora Badanian work with children to produce smart and creative items for the home, such as aprons, bags and kitchen towels adorned with motifs dreamed up by the kids.
Over at Times Square next week, the German artisan Kathrin Rinner will display table decorations cobbled together from driftwood found on the beach.On the other hand, Lilliam Fae Pollard has carved out a rather fetching niche in vinyl wall stickers – a silhouette of Africa, an elegant tangle of Arabic – often costing not more than Dh100 each.
Townsend and Walsh keep a close eye on the stalls to prevent this from becoming a festival of tat. "We often go around the market at the start, checking how people are setting out their shopfronts." But he does note that several ARTE sellers have since moved on to opening their own shops in the city, a positive sign for locally based artisan talent.
"It can be very difficult to set up a small boutique, you need serious money. We're offering a cheap alternative so that people can test the market and see if a product actually works."
A stall of one's own
It costs Dh100 to be an ARTE member and Dh200 for a stall at one of their monthly events, including tables, two chairs and a tablecloth. "One of the reasons why I think ARTE has been a success is because we're not in it for the money; we're there to promote handmade products in Dubai. There is a huge number of people in this city with a lot of talent who need to be seen and appreciated."
• Visit www.arte.ae for details