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A sampling of folklife and cultural tourism projects in the U.S.
Case Study: Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance Gathering/Wabanaki Cultural Guide*
Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance
For eight years now the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance Gathering and Festival has become a popular get-together for basketmakers, tourists, collectors, and other native artists in the state. Held each July in Bar Harbor, Maine, this two-day event was inspired by a similar gathering held each year by California basketmakers. The American Bus Association has listed the Maine festival among the top 100 events in all of North America to visit.
The annual attendance of 2000 people at this festival is breathtaking in light of the dire situation Maine Indian Basketmakers found themselves in just ten years ago. The long tradition of Indian basketmakers selling to tourists at Bar Harbor and other parts of the Maine coast was dying out. While apprenticeships were being sponsored, the few older Indians still making baskets realized that the tradition would only survive if younger basketmakers were enticed to continue the profession by better promotion and higher pricing for their baskets.
To begin to achieve these aims, the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance was formed, modeled on similar efforts in California and South Carolina. They consulted Dale Rosegarten, a historian who had worked with Sweetgrass basketmakers in South Carolina, to talk about the revival and marketing of this craft. They started the Gathering, which provided a place for basketmakers and collectors alike to hear speakers, see and buy work, learn from each other about the craft, and address collective issues such as sustaining the supply of natural resources necessary to make the baskets.
In conjunction with the second gathering, 5000 posters featuring the basketry of Maine's four Indian tribes were produced with support from the Maine Arts Commission and the Maine Office of Tourism. The poster, which is sold at the festival and at two other basketry shows in the state, features the Alliance name and often doubles as a display backdrop where Indian baskets were sold.
The poster has been invaluable in developing the public identity of the Alliance as well as the public image of Maine Indian basketry. Kathleen Mundell, Traditional Arts Associate, Maine Arts Commission, credits the poster's museum-quality photographs, which highlight the great beauty and skill inherent in Maine Indian basketry, with raising self-esteem among the practitioners of this craft, noting that she remembers seeing the poster framed in the home of every master basketmaker.
Based on the success of the poster, the Alliance produced an Alliance label with logo to be placed on all baskets sold. The poster and the labels work together with an Alliance-produced full-color basketmakers' directory (Maine Indian Basketry: Master Weavers of the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy & Penobscot Tribes) to elevate the perception of the quality of the work in the eyes of tourists and other outsiders. As a result, prices for Maine baskets have tripled in the last seven years, and they are continuing to rise. Fifteen apprentice basketmakers under age fifteen are now learning the craft.
The Alliance's original focus on baskets has now been expanded to a project involving other traditional art forms. A Wabanaki Guide to Maine, just published in Summer 2000, includes a directory of 100 Indian artists in Maine and tours of four tribal reservations in the state, including sites of related interest and Native-run businesses and lodges. This guide is the result of an inventory which Indian artists asked the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance to undertake.
Mundell comments that such a guide will be quite a leap forward in a state where a lot of visitors "don't even know there are four tribes." She adds that the guide will also serve within Maine Indian communities by helping to better network Indian artists. Mundell notes that this guidebook is something of an experiment in cultural tourism, as the Maine Indian tribes have not previously grappled with "how they want to present themselves to outsiders on a large scale." The Alliance hired a non-Indian travel professional who had previously written a guide to Acadia National Park to write their guide. The Maine American Automobile Association materials now include a notice inviting visitors to request A Wabanaki Guide to Maine by mail.
Mundell anticipates that some tourists may still be surprised by the lack of a tourist infrastructure along the very rural routes of the Wabanaki Trail. For instance, not all areas have food service establishments, and the hours for many tribal museums are irregular. The Alliance received a grant from the Arts Commission to train staff at tribal museums for increased tourist audiences. It is hoped that once tourists begin to come, the infrastructure will develop organically, as small-scale entrepreneurs from within the Indian communities will start to provide necessary services. Two tribal economic development professionals who serve on the Alliance steering committee will monitor these developments. Technical assistance will also be available from the Folklife as well as the Cultural Tourism program of the Maine Arts Commission.
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