Wendy Rosen has spent the last thirty years advocating for craft artists and publishing both trade and consumer magazines devoted to covering the field, including her flagship publication American Style, which celebrates collectors as well as artists. Now the Maryland-based business owner is making a bid for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. The GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet caught up with Rosen by phone this weekend, where she was in Philadelphia running one of her Buyers Markets, a national trade show and wholesale market for handcrafted luxury products. “Actually it’s pretty good. Aisles are crowded today and people are more optimistic this year than they were last by far,” she said about the turnout.
She already has dipped her toe into politics with her American Made Alliance, an organization geared towards growing craft micro-businesses and American-made products. The organization also supports legislation that strictly defines products country of origin, so foreign manufacturers cannot claim their products are made in America. If Rosen makes it to Congress she would like to expand country of origin laws to include states, so consumers will know that the cheese they bought was made in Wisconsin and the candles were made in Maryland. Rosen has spent years lobbying Capitol Hill on behalf of artists around the country. “There’s so much that I’ve tried to do from outside of the system and I realized that being inside the system is how you really get things done,” she says.
Rosen is a go-getter. She first got involved with craft artists after attending an art fair. “Artists were in the aisles complaining about their livelihood and wanting to sell wholesale, so I said why don’t you put together a hospitality suite and they said, ‘What’s a hospitality suite?” Rosen believes, then and now, that one of the biggest impediments to artists is a lack of business education. Her organization supports technical training for artists on how to grow and sustain their businesses. Rosen is also interested in getting Congress to provide grants that would help artists cover trade show costs. She says, booths at large trade shows can cost upwards of $20,0000. For many artists from other countries a large portion of trade show costs are often subsidized, says Rosen, but not in the United States. “That’s a huge disadvantage to American producers that have to pay for the space out of their own pocket.”
Rosen maintains that providing support for small businesses is the best way to reinvigorate the faltering economy. “In the recovery of the economy 78 percent of all new jobs will come from micro-enterprise start ups,” Rosen says. In Baltimore, Rosen capitalizes on the growing trend of shopping locally. In 1986 the Rosen Group began renovating an old cotton mill in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood to house their offices. Since then a variety of artists and small businesses have come to work at the mill, now known as Mill Centre. The building is a good example of the type of community that Rosen would like to create, one that predominately relies on local businesses. Many politicians refer to this as Main Street, the common retail hub for many neighborhoods, villages, and towns.
While Rosen champions Main Street, she acknowledges it’s susceptible to local economy lulls and dips, which is why she thinks all local artists should also compete in national and international markets selling their wares in trade shows and other forums. Her campaign draws heavily on her experience promoting craft artists, which may be too narrow a lens for some voters. But, with a 6.7-percent unemployment rate in Maryland, residents may be looking for a candidate that supports small business. If Rosen can open her campaign language to discuss small business beyond artisanal craft, she may have a fighting chance against some of her other business-minded competitors.
The Maryland crafts-advocate will be competing for candidacy in Maryland’s first Congressional district. Her Democratic competitors include John LaFerla, a gynecologist, and Kim Letke, a small business owner and government contractor. If she emerges as the Democratic candidate she will be up against incumbent Andy Harris (R), a career politician. Prior to being elected to the House of Representatives, Harris was a Senator in the Maryland State Congress.