Hospitality workers affected by COVID-19 sell crafts, magic at Orlando artisan market

·3 min read

Beneath a canopy belonging to Justin Time Designs sat rows of stickers, prints and buttons, many featuring Disney characters and some alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a “Hamilton”-themed button that read, “I did not throw away my shot. I’m vaccinated.”

The artist behind all of it, Justin Durgana, was furloughed last year from his job as entertainment manager at nonprofit Give Kids the World and was in the Ivanhoe Brewing Company parking lot Saturday as part of the first Magical Artisan Market.

There, dozens of Disney cast members and other hospitality workers sold goods and crafts, the latest showcase for people among the most affected by the pandemic. Durgana — who was joined by his brother Tyler, who dressed as a Mandalorian to reel in passersby — always had a knack for art and took on the job full time, selling his work via his Etsy shop.

“It was like jumping in the deep end and figuring it out as I go, and I had no choice but to make it work,” Durgana said with an unbreakable smile. “I was really lucky that I was able to just do it and that it’s worked out for me.”

The market is the first of many being organized by Ashley DePaul, a former event coordinator for the Walt Disney Company who now runs Bleach Please Customs, a custom apparel business she began after she was laid off in September due to the pandemic.

Organized partly through a Facebook group, the next is scheduled June 19 for Pride Month and will continue to be held monthly until the end of the year.

“I was doing what I thought was my dream job, but [the pandemic] taught me to dream bigger so I unlocked this other potential that I had … so while it was really disappointing, it was nice to have this grow out of it,” DePaul said.

It’s one of the many ways former and current hospitality workers have supported each other during a pandemic that displaced them from their livelihoods. Along with helping each other find work throughout the pandemic and the creation of a shop for laid-off workers, a Cast Member Pantry was also formed to support workers with groceries to feed a family of four.

The pantry also took part at the market, which held a raffle to raise money.

“We all share our fanbases with each other so you can expand your network,” Durgana said. “We’re constantly helping each other out — buying each other’s stuff, sharing each other’s stuff — because we’re all on the same boat.”

Logan Koval, a former Walt Disney World photographer, sold hand-drawn cards and personalized coloring pages at the market for Log’s Art Cabin, a business she began after she was laid off last year. Though she, like others, were rattled by suddenly being out of work, Koval said it gave her time to focus on her art.

“At Disney, I was working crazy hours and suddenly I had all this free time,” she said. “It was weird and scary. But for the most part it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to start my own business and finally do what I love to do.”

Many workers, Koval included, have since found other work since losing their previous jobs. Along with running her own business, Koval is a graphic designer for Entertainment Technology Partners in Orlando.

As more people return to work, DePaul said that has opened spots for new vendors at future market events. But others like her Durgana have committed full time to their new careers.

“All these people love to generate happiness for people. That was our goal at Disney,” DePaul said. “So seeing that all out here and being able to do that again, in our own unique way, is awesome.”

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