Mod Market: An Inclusive Gallery with Neurodiverse Employees

An Interview With Amy Bonser of Mod Market

By Malcolm Wang

Mod Market is a nonprofit gallery in downtown Northville, Michigan that features artwork by local artists with and without disabilities. It is an inclusive gallery. The manager is Amy Bonser. In the shop, she trains neurodiverse employees for a career in retail and marketing. I have known Amy since 2019 when the shop opened. I interviewed her so that other people can learn about her work.

Is Mod Market a nonprofit organization or is it a for-profit business?

Mod Market is an enterprise of the Living and Learning Enrichment Center which is a 501(c)3 organization. Therefore, Mod Market is nonprofit.

Who started Mod Market and why did they start it?

Rachelle Vartanian, the Founder and Director of Living and Learning Enrichment Center, noticed a great deal of talent among the individuals who participated in the programs offered by Living and Learning. She knew that someday, she wanted to have a place that this talent could be shared. She wanted to help individuals with autism or related challenges earn an income from their talent.

When was Mod Market opened?

Mod Market opened on September 21, 2019.

What is the purpose of Mod Market? What is Mod Market’s goal?

Mod Market is an inclusive artist’s market, unique gift shop and coffee bar. The goal of Mod Market is to create a fantastic place to shop, admire art and other handmade goods, and to offer on the job training opportunities for teens and adults with autism or similar challenges. Mod Market will prepare its employees and trainees for similar job opportunities in customer service, retail, and cafe environments.

What types of artists and artwork are featured?

Mod Market currently features 65 artists. The type of art and handmade goods we sell include ceramics and pottery, garden art, stained glass, jewelry, books, clothing, photography, paintings and prints, natural bath and body products, candles, purses and bags, fused glass, and objects made from repurposed items.

Mod Market Image

How does Mod Market help adults with autism become more independent?

Mod Market helps adults with autism become more independent through employment training. Our first goal is to develop a unique training program for each individual to meet their specific needs while teaching, and training the elements of a position in retail, customer service, or counter service cafes. The objective is to be able to present a future employer with the tools needed to properly transition from Mod Market to a new position and to offer support through the transition.

Does Mod Market have special activities and events?

Mod Market is located in downtown Northville, MI, and participates in most of the events within the city such as First Friday shopping events. Mod also hosts “meet the artist” events, art classes, and offers birthday party and other social opportunities.

Mod Market event
Mod Market event before Covid-19

What does it mean to be an inclusive market?

Mod Market is inclusive, which means we provide a comfortable environment for all of our artists and employees and strive to make everyone feel welcome.

Why is the location of Mod Market important?

Mod Market is located in the building previously occupied by the Living and Learning Enrichment Center. Mod is in close proximity to the new location of LLEC. Mod Market is fortunate to be in downtown Northville, in the center of town, in the middle of a welcoming and walkable, safe community.

Mod Market

Tell me something exciting about Mod Market.

Mod Market is exciting because we are always meeting new people: New artists and new customers which creates valuable social experiences.

Mod Market is also exciting because we are always learning, setting goals and reaching them. Progress happens every single day.

How has Mod Market responded to COVID-19?

Since customers cannot shop in our store, we have started an online marketplace which can be found at Mod-Market-150.square.site. We are offering free delivery and no contact curbside pickup. If you want to include that, your readers will be able to see some of the items we sell and could make a purchase if they find something they like. I have also been meeting weekly thru Zoom with the part time employees of Mod Market so that we can discuss things like how will our customer service need to change if we are wearing masks at work?.

How will Mod Market respect social distancing at work?

I have shown them via Zoom, the new software program we are using so that our items can be offered in the store and online.

What is your favorite part of your job?

People. I enjoy the people I work with daily and the people I meet. It is very energizing and fulfilling.

What is the hardest part of your job?

COVID 19 has made the past months difficult. I miss the daily interactions with the people I work with and meeting new people as they visit Mod Market. I am looking forward to being able to interact with people again.

How did your background prepare you for your work at Mod Market?

I have a variety of experiences. My degree is in hospitality business, and I have many years of experience managing restaurants. This prepared me well for retail and customer service but just like Mod Market it is all about people. How you interact with others, how you treat others, and how you value what each person has to offer. I have also owned and operated a small business and have worked as part of a remote work team. I enjoy a fast paced, ever changing work environment.

Tell me a funny story about your job.

We had WXYZ Channel 7 scheduled for 2 live news segments about Mod Market on a Sunday morning in early March. We prepared as much as we could for live television, and Rachelle Vartanian was going to be interviewed for the first segment about the artists at Mod Market, and I was going to be interviewed for the 2nd segment. I received a text from Rachelle 30 minutes before we were supposed to be at Mod Market to say that she was unable to be there – she was sick. I thought she was teasing because she likes to joke around – I waited for the follow up text to tell me that she was joking but she wasn’t. It all turned out ok – things always have a way of working out.

The Art of Autism is all about neurodiversity and creativity. What is your favorite way to be creative?

I love learning about and working with people – we are all different. We are motivated by different things, we respond differently to compliments and criticism, we respond to humor differently. I like to figure out each person I work with, and teach them or communicate with them in the way that is best for them. I like to play piano and my husband and I write silly poems for my family at Christmas time that tells the story of the past year. We usually pick a few funny events that happened and write the poem about them.

Thank you, Amy, for a great interview and for your support of neurodiverse employees. If you would like to learn more, follow Mod Market on Facebook. You can also follow Mod Market Northville on YouTube and see the television segment from March.

Malcolm with Amy

Biography

Malcolm Wang is an artist in Michigan. Malcolm was diagnosed with autism at age three. His artwork is sold through Mod Market in Northville, Michigan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.