Beacon entrepreneur launches creative guild
After losing her sales job in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jessica (Jess) Kravit gathered a group of people in much the same position and said: “Let’s start our own little market.”
The result was the River Valley Guild, a Beacon-based collective that is “a platform and resource for creatives, makers, artists and purveyors of the arts.”
The first market was held in Marlboro in January 2021 at what is now the Quartz Rock Vineyard, owned by Dan and Jacqui Heavens. “Artists need to make money — everybody needs to eat, to pay their bills,” says Kravit, who moved to Beacon from Westchester County six years ago. “Creative and entrepreneurial are not things that can’t coexist.”
During that first year, the guild hosted more markets, along with happy hours, concerts and film screenings. But by 2022, “we wanted to break out and show the community how much more we can do,” Kravit says. “I’d like to be a connector for those who are from here and those who recently moved up from the city.”
The Guild, which has expanded into Kingston and Poughkeepsie, has worked with more than 40 venues, including farms, breweries, stores, restaurants and bars.
“Our pitch is that our structure is organic,” says Kravit, who owns Exalted Alchemy, a wellness-products business. “I’m a big people person, and I’m always networking. So many businesses here are community-oriented and see the value in what we can bring to the table.”
The Guild has two membership tiers, one designed for events, such as pop-up shops, and the other for artists who don’t necessarily sell products, such as photographers, designers and musicians.
“It’s been a process, figuring out productive membership and partnership benefits,” Kravit says. “The big roadblock for us is financial, of course. We cover our expenses, but bringing on some sponsorships is a big goal. We’re putting together co-working days, a monthly business support group, ongoing pop-up residencies at local breweries and a speed-networking event for this summer.”
The Guild is also involved with videography for members that focuses on “the why, the how and the what” of local businesses; joining with podcasters Brandon Lillard and Andd Bivans of @theuniverse845 for “The Guild Gang,” debuting in April; poetry workshops; and figure-drawing workshops with Beacon Open Studios.
“We have a lot of people at events who have worked for corporate companies but who want to be around creative people,” Kravit says. “That’s why our things like cocktail parties do so well. Experiential types of events, getting-your-hands-dirty activities, appeal to Gen Z. A lot of their inspiration comes from sustainability, and there’s been a resurgence of connecting more deeply in that way.”
The major challenge is consistent engagement, she says. “All this has been trial-and-error, which we learn from: If you do an event more than once a month, it’s hard to bring people out. A lot of it is figuring out how to get people to continue to show up.
“I have great partners who do show up, and if you can’t support things financially, support it with your time. People need to, if they want it to continue. We all understand people have their own lives, but we hope they appreciate we are trying to do something different.”