When I moved to Athens in ‘95, it didn’t really feel like a choice but more of a default. I had a free ride at UGA with scholarships and grants, and my highschool sweetheart would be going there, so why not?
Fresh out of college at 22 and ready to take on the world, I instead met the man who would become the father of my child and we decided to stay in Athens–for the moment. Just temporarily, I told myself, until we could figure out our next step as a family. I got an opportunity to open my own boutique, Remnant, selling my work and the handmade pieces of others.
But by 27 I was a single mom and unable to keep my business afloat while adequately supporting my child. My friends were moving on to bigger cities and even other countries, dreams I shared but saw no way of making a reality.
Instead, like so many of my artist and musician friends, I spent my nights in service industry jobs, renting a cheap apartment whose location allowed me to get by without a car, and working on my passions when I could. I continued to sell my work at events and shows, while holding down two or more other jobs, and unsure of how to make my art my living.
I knew that I was happiest when I was making things, and being around others who did the same. I never felt more at home than when I was at a craft fair, getting to know other creative people and seeing what they do. But I couldn’t see a way to translate that into my day to day life.
Unbeknownst to me, during this time the seeds of my future were being planted. A friend suggested that since I had so many connections with artists in town, maybe I should just start my own market.
What began on a whim–the very first holiday market was put together in a little over two weeks with a group of about 20 artists–turned into my first true sense of connection to the broader community here. As Indie South Fair grew, I came into contact with people I otherwise wouldn’t have known–people that weren’t in my social circles, but who also wanted to make a living doing what they loved.
The feedback was encouraging, with people telling me how well they did at my markets and how much they appreciated my hard work. It felt good, knowing that I could facilitate the dreams of others as I worked toward my own.
As time went on, I met people who weren’t itching to get out to Brooklyn or San Francisco or Portland where many of my friends had gone. People who saw Athens as fertile ground for cultivating some of the more cosmopolitan aspects they sought without sacrificing the slower pace of life we all appreciated.
I began to see that there was an opportunity to help create the town I wanted to be in without uprooting my family or my life, alongside people who truly cared about their community. I started to embrace Athens, not as the college town I never left, but as place that already has the makings of everything I want, and the people willing to put in the work and time to realize their dreams here.
My Fall event more than doubled in size, and my Holiday event swelled with almost a third more artists–not just locals, but people from far-away states who are hearing about all the great things Athens has to offer and want to see for themselves. Athens has shown me that it loves what I do, and I love doing it here. Now I am collaborating with some of the other businesses that have sprung up to promote and serve our creative community.
I sense a fresh energy here, one that seeks to maximize the potential while preserving the original charm. I see myself as being able to have an impact and a voice in our community, as someone who creates something that has a ripple effect throughout our town. Many people are moving here not to go to college but to make a life here, recognizing that Athens is worth investing themselves in.
Indeed, I made such an investment myself last December, in buying my first home here. It’s an historic in-town property that has a special place in the Athens music scene and in the hearts of many who have passed through it.
It feels good to know I will have a hand in preserving it. Also this year the man I fell in love with closed the distance between us by re-locating from Atlanta to make his home here as well.
This year, after living here almost 20 years, I can now say I have chosen Athens as the place I want to make my home and make a difference. A small corner of the world that feels like mine, and that I want to share with others.
Serra Ferguson is the founder and organizer of Indie South Fair, a series of markets featuring local artists and craftspeople that pops up around town throughout the year. This year’s December holiday market featured over 100 vendors and created tens of thousands of dollars in holiday spending on local businesses. Check out Indie South’s smaller pop-up shops at Broad 9A in the Chase Street Warehouses the third Sunday of every month, and keep an eye out for their Valentine’s Market February 6 at Creature Comforts.