It takes a village to build a space that sincerely supports local business and cultivates creative thinking. Sonja Rasula is the mayor of that village. In 2008, the former tv design personality went out on a personal and professional limb to launch Unique Markets, a large scale pop-up marketplace that brings together a community of entrepreneurs, artists and makers. It took a lot of skill, expertise, and good old fashioned gumption, but Unique Markets quickly became the largest shopping event of its kind in this country, drawing in crowds of 50k. An estimated $1 million is spent during each two-day show, which doesn’t just have a tangible positive impact on the local economy—it also gives the independent creatives and small business owners who exhibit at the event a better shot at making a living doing what they love.
Belief in the importance of increasing artists’ access to opportunity is a driving force of what we do over here at 20x200, so Rasula’s mission is close to our hearts. That she’s gone all-in on a sort of modern day pioneerdom and dedicated herself to fostering creative communities is wildly motivating and, frankly, refreshing. It’s no wonder Los Angeles Magazine named her one of LA’s Most Inspiring Women. Rasula’s work has since branched out to a business conference called CAMP, as well as The Unique Space, a permanent spot housing 18 private offices and a bevy of cool companies from Bustle to Blue Bottle. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
In the meantime, we’re feeling lucky that Rasula somehow managed to steal away from her super busy sched to make five cool 20x200 art selects and answer five of our Qs. Get the scoop in her 5+5 interview below! – Jen Bekman + Team 20x200
5 Perfect Picks
1) Full-time Feminist by Western Editions
I love the message and it's reminiscent of the DIY/OG zine days, which I love.
2) Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan by Berenice Abbott
One of my passions is architecture and another is photography, so I absolutely love photos of buildings, bridges, structures, etc. This holds a special place in my heart because I love to bike across the bridges whenever I'm in NYC to take in the views.
3) Black Box by Sarah McKenzie
Again, my love for architecture and lines and patterns runs deep. Plus these colors are everything!!!
4) Black Marble (North America), a 20x200 Space Edition
This one gives me chills. Truly. I'm drawn to it and drawn into it, seeing different aspects of it each time I look at it. It's a beautiful reminder of how small we are.
5) Flamingo No. 4 by Sharon Montrose
Sharon sold at Unique LA way back in the day, so I've been a huge fan of hers for maybe a decade now. I love the simplicity of her portraits, knowing how much effort and technicality goes into shooting the live animals. The colors in this one in particular are so calming ...
5 Q's + 5 A's
1) Do you prefer a single statement piece or a salon wall?
Depends, but I've created mostly salon walls at work. I love diversity!
2) What's your most coveted coffee table book?
Annie Leibovitz SUMO!!!
3) If you could be reincarnated as an artist, who would you want to be?
My favorite: Cindy Sherman.
4) You've got $5m to spend on one piece of art. What would it be?
A building. An old building like a school or a factory or a government building that needs to be brought back to life. Architecture is art—the masonry, the tiles, the staircases ... To save a piece of history so that people could enjoy it would be what I would do.
5) Unique Markets is celebrating its tenth year (congrats!) of giving artists and creatives an IRL platform for exposure, helping them reach a receptive audience. What advice would you give an artist who’s looking to make a living making art? And since you've been doing what you do for a decade now, any tips on how to stay motivated and keep on keeping on?
Being an artist is one thing, selling your art to live is quite another thing. My advice is for artists to be open to the fact that they must sell to make a living, so many people struggle with this. You have to think like a sales person, a hustler, a razzle-and-dazzler. If you are not good at selling (and from my experience many creatives are not), no problem, find someone who is and hire them. Sales are crucial whether it's on your website, selling to collectors, selling to retailers or selling yourself to a gallery for a show.
My advice on staying motivated is to stay curious and to surround yourself with people who inspire you. :)
The 411 on Sonja Rasula
Driven by the idea that creativity can change the world and by the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is What are you doing for others?," Sonja has dedicated herself to creating businesses that foster entrepreneurship, spread creative thinking, and grow community. Risking her entire 401k savings she started Unique Markets, the largest modern pop-up market in the country, in 2008 and never looked back. She was named '1 of 30 Women EntrepreneursChanging the World' by fashion mogul Eileen Fisher, and Los Angeles Magazine honored her as one of LA's Most Inspiring Women. Fueled by her passion for helping people grow, Sonja then launched CAMP, a creative business conference. Sonja then decided to create a permanent place for entrepreneurs and creative thinkers... And so The Unique Space was born - an 18,000 sq ft building in downtown LA's Arts District that houses 18 private offices and an event space.