Inspired by my mother, my passion for the arts started at a young age. When she was studying fine arts at a university in Beirut, my mother would often bring me to class. While she worked on her projects, I worked on a toddler’s version of Pointillism. In the years that followed, we relocated to different countries and homes, but art projects with her were a mainstay of my childhood. These experiences and memories have inspired a deep love and curiosity for the world of art that will last a lifetime.

During the pandemic, art and hobby related activities provided consumers with a way to explore, revisit, build, and share old and new passions. Art also served as an outlet to reduce anxiety, manage stress, and aid mental health and wellness. The office, school, and art supplies community introduced new products that provided consumers of all ages with a way to skill-up, de-stress, and explore their creative side. NPD’s Weekly Retail Tracking Service data shows the combined growth of office supplies categories related to art, hobbies, and crafts hit a record high of +15% when compared to pre-pandemic levels (52 weeks ending Nov. 20, 2021 vs. 52 weeks ending Nov. 23, 2019). Although, this strong performance was heavily influenced by the disruption to ‘normal’ life triggered by the pandemic, there remains opportunity to maintain the new volume levels within this space in the future.

Entrepreneurship often brings people together in meaningful ways, and with the acceleration and increasing reliance on technology, the start-up culture received a tremendous boost during the pandemic. Aspiring artists and crafters leveraged the digital acceleration to open online stores, turning ideas or former hobbies into profitable businesses. Categories such as die-cutting and crafting machines (up 164%), stamps and ink pads (up 95%), and complementary products like mailing and shipping (up 31%) are all growing as a result (52 weeks ending Nov. 20, 2021 vs. 52 weeks ending Nov. 23, 2019). Retailers and manufacturers are responding by building better digital experiences for active sellers, their buyers, and introducing new programs for bulk purchasing. The future requires ongoing nurturing for these creative small businesses, their needs, and their customers. This will be a key customer connection and loyalty building opportunity for the arts and crafts supplies community.

In addition to businesses, schools also leveraged technology at an accelerated rate to continue operations. In the future, over 20% of teachers indicate they are planning to increase the level of digital interaction with students, according to NPD’s Future of Office Supplies Report. Teachers at local community art programs, like The Cathedral Arts Project also shifted operations online. The result was increased student engagement, greater access to multiple art forms, increased out-of-state participation in the program, and growing global reach. By gaining an understanding of how these organizations are adjusting and building towards the future, the office supplies community has an opportunity to get involved with the local and global art scene connecting students, artists, and business owners to each other and to the products they need to share their ideas, perspectives, and passions.

Art can act as a bridge for healing, connection, understanding, and is an essential component to education and business development. The A(rt) in STEAM is the glue that holds everything together by promoting creative thinking, problem solving, attention to detail, and exploration of how individual pieces fit together to make a whole. The growing attention on this subject, particularly in early childhood development, is an area worth further exploration and can act as a potential point of growth for the industry. Connecting education with experience and retail is another avenue for growth. For example, with travel restrictions looming, why not provide a window for the consumer to experience the Louvre in a well-designed and curated in-store experience; or sponsor an art showcase by displaying prior submissions alongside the products needed for the next show or competition? NPD’s Future of Office Supplies Report is forecasting art related categories will remain elevated with growth of 11% in 2022 versus pre-pandemic volumes. As we head into 2022, the possibilities in this space are endless.