Artisan Trail grant approved for Albemarle and Nelson

Last fall, Susan Stimart,  business facilitator for Albemarle County, partnered with the economic development and tourism director in Nelson County to apply for grant funds to promote our rural artisan businesses by developing an Artisan Trail, similar to the Monticello Wine Trail, The Brew Ridge Trail for beer, and The Crooked Road Music Trail in southwest Virginia. Our BOS was in agreement and approved $1000 in county funding for the project.

On January 26, 2010, Albemarle and Nelson Counties received approval for the grant, which will total $18,000.  The Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) along with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) are providing support funds, along with the Economic Development Partnership and the Department of Business Assistance. The sustainability plan includes a participatory fee structure for the artisans, agri-artisans, supporting sites, and additional sponsors. The project will benefit the livelihoods of our local artisans and our local creative economy, further stimulating tourism and our community.

The Central Virginia Artisan Trail project will work with the Artisan Center of Virginia (ACV) to produce a tourist brochure and map linking our artisan studios, galleries, and agri-tourism businesses throughout Albemarle and Nelson Counties as trail sites. The Central Virginia Artisan Trail map will be available for tourists and citizens throughout the area. To supplement the paper brochure, the ACV Artisan Trail Directory website will list local artisans’ studios and galleries as regional trail sites. The online directory will provide detailed information, photographs, and links to partner websites.

Virginia’s Artisan Trails began in southwest VA where the economic aftermath of loss of manufacturing jobs in textiles and woodworking is severe. The Trail’s goal is to identify the locations of participating artisans, the hours the studio or gallery is open, and the affiliated businesses along the route, many of whom display the works of artists whose locations or work processes do not lend themselves to visitors.  In addition to helping artisans to market their craft, VTC Entrepreneurship Express assistance is available to strengthen business aspects.

There will be no need to reinvent the wheel. In the mid 90s the Handmade in America program was launched in western North Carolina by a business facilitator named Becky Anderson. She spoke at the artisan conference I attended on January 23 and had some terrific numbers to inspire us in our rural business activities.

The goal of the program is to reverse the market, bringing the tourist and local shopper to the artisan rather than the artisan carrying their crafts to a remote sales place. The brochures will include listings for artists, artisans, farms, artisanal meat, veggie or cheese makers. Listings will show off our natural resources, mountain peaks and waterfalls, scenic vistas, byways, and rivers, local heritage sites, local bed and breakfasts, and restaurants who display the works of artisans in their décor.

In North Carolina in 1995, the economic impact of the Handmade in America program was $122 Million, 4x tobacco and equal to the manufacturing wages of the region. In 2007, after 12 years, the impact was measured at $207 Million. Tourists purchase more than 65 percent of the artisan sales in NC.

The economic success of our rural economy benefits the artisan families directly, as well as our county and region. This is an exciting beginning.

I learned much of this information at the Artisan Center of Virginia conference, Create Craft – Create Community, January 23, 2010, Hotel Roanoke.

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