Growing SMALL

At Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere this past Friday, two DJs occupied the center of the room, trading off tracks from a stack of Beastie Boys LPs in honor of MCA, the group’s recently deceased co-founder. Yet neither the avid scratching of the turntablists nor the recorded shouts of the legendary New York City rap crew could be heard very clearly; the general hubbub of the space’s main event was growing quickly into a dull roar.

The event in question was the launch of the SMALL Showroom, a pop-up exhibition designed to promote awareness of a range of local Bridgeport-area artisans and products. Over a hundred companies and individuals were represented through SMALL (Small Manufacturing Alliance), which, according to their website, promotes Chicagoland “companies and individuals who make locally manufactured products.” Items on display ranged in size from a massive, $500 didgeridoo nicknamed “the Elephant Tusk” and hand-carved from an agave stalk, to one-inch cubes of Asiago cheese selected from Giles Schnierle’s Great American Cheese Collection. Among these offerings were free tastings from 18th Street Brewery, Koval Distillery, Bridgeport Coffee, and Katherine Anne, the “founder and confectionista” of Katherine Anne Confections. Non-culinary products included custom-designed bikes, graphic tees, beaded animals, and tables carved into the shape of various American states (the company offered to do any state in the union other than Hawaii, Florida, and Maryland). The space also served as a bulletin board for myriad advertisements for demonstrations and exhibitions, all of which seemed to be occurring concurrently with the showroom proper.

The sprawl of the showroom led to certain limitations on space as well as time for those organizing the show. My conversation with Ed Marszewski, co-director of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, was held in a cramped space between the falafel table and the main display window, leading some passersby to wonder whether or not we were part of some sort of SMALL-sponsored performance piece. Despite, or perhaps due to, the hustle and large number of guests, Marszewski was still very excited. “It’s great that I can bring together all these people–many of them friends who live within a block of this space–and be able to promote them like this.” He also noted, however, that the preparation has been hectic. “I’ve been meeting with hundreds of people every day. I’ve barely been able to learn everyone’s name.”

Herein lies the essential dilemma for the SMALL Showroom: if it is to represent an intimate community of businesses and artists in Bridgeport, how will it adapt as Bridgeport grows into its own as “the community of the future”–as one local publication optimistically christened the neighborhood–where more and more artists and manufacturers are moving everyday? How long, one wonders, will SMALL be able to remain small?