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A sampling of folklife and cultural tourism projects in the U.S.
Case Study: The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina Guidebook*
HandMade in America
The popular guidebook The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina was first published in 1996. The 1998 edition (which sells for $13.95) has 500 listings, 40% more than the first edition. The guide was published by HandMade in America, an Asheville, North Carolina-based non-profit organization which began six years ago. The idea for the organization came from a small group of people. Becky Anderson, now HandMade in America's executive director, was then Director of Economic Development for the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.
A seventh-generation western North Carolinian, she was frustrated with her position, which was recruiting mainstream industry to a region which she felt was ill suited for it. She realized she would have more success with local economic development if she were able to build on the assets of the local communities and economies. In conversations with the chair of her economic development board and with encouragement from another western North Carolina native working with the American Craft Council in New York, she began developing strategies to capitalize on the crafts industry already in the region.
She began a one-year planning process that involved 300 people around the region. Appalachian State University concurrently conducted an economic impact study. For the survey, they contacted as many craftspeople in the region as possible, and they found that the craft industry contributes $122 million a year to the economy of the region--four times the impact of the burley tobacco industry in this same region.
Eight different task forces (focusing on topics such as education, tourism, economic development, and marketing) representing the twenty-three North Carolina counties in the region were formed for the planning process. The state governor served as the honorary chair of all these committees. The task forces included members of:
Laurie Huttunen, HandMade in America's Director of Services, feels that the program's success was built on the organization really "doing their homework," and taking a "ground-up, resource and assets driven approach." She strongly believes that "if you just build it and plunk it anywhere, it will fail." Huttunen thinks they were particularly successful in this location because craft organizations such as John C. Campbell Folk School, the Penland School of Crafts, and the Southern Highland Craft Guild had been supporting crafts traditions in western North Carolina for well over fifty years already. Thus, family income based wholly or in part on craft-making was quite commonplace within the region. This long-standing industry meant that in North Carolina, the "inventory"—the individual studios, shops and crafts centers—were already there, and all that needed to be done was to build an infrastructure "so that all the four wheels were going in the same direction."
The guide includes a wide variety of crafts from fine arts to traditional, although because of their focus on crafts that are for sale, the artists’ list is weighted toward professionals. Along with many smaller studios and galleries, the guide also includes the Folk Art Center, a 30,000-square-foot facility built on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1980 and run by the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Despite its name, the Folk Art Center offers very little in the way of traditional arts; almost all the wares displayed are made by fine arts craftspeople.
One "folk artist" featured in the directory is Hope Brown, who is part of the group of artists described as "the Brasstown Carvers." These artists carve small wooden sculptures, predominantly animals, with materials provided by the John C. Campbell Folk School. Hope Brown and her daughter are part of a family that for several generations has specialized in carving cats. Another featured artist toward the traditional end of the continuum is Phil Brown, a carver in his late forties who was born in the area who has been carving since he was fourteen. He has developed his own style of carving birds in particular. First, he was a stone mason and carved as a second income, but now he derives his living entirely from carving birds. Three family-owned potteries, Evans, Brown and Pisgah Forest, each well known for their pottery in western North Carolina, are featured in the guide as well.
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