Topics: Work and Community (cross-referenced)
A Profile of HandMade in America
This broad-based coalition in Western North Carolina is implementing a twenty-two county community development strategy based on the unique history of the region as a center for handmade crafts. The community is one of fourteen working with the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, which focuses attention on the civic capacity of smaller cities. Case study plus.
Case Study Plus: HandMade in America
by Becky Anderson Executive Director, Handmade in America
The Issue: Creating Sustainable Economies
Over the past 20 years the state of North Carolina has seen explosive growth, recently leading the nation in industrial expansion and relocation. At the same time, Asheville and western North Carolina have lost their relative economic standing in the state.
While the state of North Carolina as a whole has benefited from its aggressive industrial recruitment campaigns, such a strategy would be counterproductive in the mountains of western North Carolina. Asheville and its environs are challenged to develop economic strategies that are sensitive to the natural environment and preserve its unique mountain culture. To this end, the region of western North Carolina needed a creative approach that offered opportunity for skilled jobs and the diversification of the economic base of the area.
For the response to this challenge, western North Carolina is returning to its rootshandmade objects. The Blue Ridge Mountains of this region have long been identified with beautiful and functional handmade things. It is the home of the nation's finest craft schools and its oldest continuing craft organization. Most native North Carolina industriespottery, paper, textiles and furnituregrew from handmade traditions.
Realizing that our future lies in our past, the challenge became apparent: How can Asheville and its surrounding mountain communities build an identity and an economy around the multimillion dollar "handmade industry"?
An economic impact study conducted in l 994 revealed that craft-related activities generate in excess of 5122 million annually in North Carolina. The region is home to 4,000 full- or part-time artisans. The production of handmade crafts represents an "invisible factory" already existing in the region.
Handmade in America is an initiative that focuses on the issue of maintaining and enhancing the region's quality of life while broadening its economic opportunity.
Using existing craft-related resources in the region, Handmade in America has developed a 20 year strategic plan that establishes western North Carolina as the geographic center for handmade objects in America. This plan allows urban and rural areas to benefit equally while bringing together a unique collection of entrepreneurs, small businesses, associations, educators, regional institutions, and corporations around a common theme. These community development strategies have created educational, economic, and cultural projects focused on the regions craft history, crafts people, and craft educational institutions.
What Works in Building New Strategies for Old Problems:
A Look at HandMade's Guiding Principles As Handmade began to implement its 20 year strategic plan a number of general guiding principles emerged to govern its work for sustainable economic development.
Principle One: All the work of Handmade is inclusive. Anyone is welcome to participate in its activities.
The invitation to participate in Handmade was extended to everyone. Our message was: please come and bring someone with you. More than 360 people in western North Carolina participated in the planning process. Meetings were held across the region and in a variety of settings to communicate the inclusivity of the process. Currently over 600 citizens are participating in 11 regional and local Handmade projects. Our quarterly newsletter, Partners: Explorations in Community, is mailed to 2,500 people who have expressed an interest in Handmade in America.
Principle Two: All projects are done in partnership with other organizations and institutionsall funding is written jointly or in the other partner's name. This principle has been the most successful in creating collaboration. Accomplishments of current projects, partners, and funding sources include:
Sharing the work and resources with fellow nonprofit and community organizations has established a true sense of partnership and collaboration.
- Craft Heritage Trails. Heritage tourism focuses on the authenticity and quality of the visitors experience and the preservation and protection of natural resources. In partnership with Blue Ridge Host, the High Country Host, and the Smoky Mountain Host, this project has designed a series of self-guided tours throughout western North Carolina. In addition to developing the trails and printing its guidebook, the three organizations must now market the trails togethera first for their tourism marketing efforts. Funding sources include North Carolina Travel and Tourism, Federal Highway Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, and Advantage West.
- Investment Bank. A program to make capital accessible to artisans, this effort is a partnership with the Self-Help Credit Union. Funders include the Self-Help Credit Union and the North Carolina Division of Community Assistance.
- Main Street Revitalization. The towns of Andrews (population 1,464), Bakersville (population 330), Chimney Rock (population 135), and Mars Hill (population 1,566) are working with larger, sister city "mentors" to develop community revitalization plans and secure funding sources. The Kathleen Price Bryan Family Fund is a financial partner.
- Craft Production Job Training Program. In partnership with Mayland Community College and the Penland School of Craft, this project is designed to increase the viability of craft as a career choice. Funding partners include Mayland Community College, Penland School of Craft, and the North Carolina Division of Community Assistance.
- Craft Registry. In partnership with Haywood Community College, this project to develop an accessible data base identifying artisans and describing their work was funded by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the North Carolina Division of Community Assistance, and the North Carolina Rural Economic Center.
- A+ Schools. In partnership with four elementary schools in western North Carolina, this project comprehensively integrates the arts into the curriculum. The funding partner is the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
Principle Three: Handmade is regional. All communities both rural and urban come equally to the table in resources.
The Handmade board of advisors is made up of 22 members representing the region geographically and drawing from diverse sectors of the community. HandMade's projects serve either a regionwide audience or a collaboration of specific communities. Communication efforts to link the region include a Handmade in America computerized community bulletin board, a traveling documentary photography exhibit, and quarterly newsletters.
Principle Four: Handmade is sustainable community development using the region's own resources and focusing on long-term solutions. In Handmade, no outside consultants are used unless required by the funding source or legal constraints. The project draws on the expertise and experience of citizens and institutions in the region it serves.
Principle Five: All Handmade in America projects are community based. Each community defines its needs, resources, and how it fits into the strategic plan. An example of this principle is the Craft Heritage Corridor. In order to develop the sites for the Craft Heritage Corridor each county created a small resource team to inventory the criteria-based sites and activities for its community. In addition, each community listed sites which were "sacred" and would not welcome large numbers of tourists.
Principle Six: Handmade in America is self-sustaining. All projects must fit into the operation of an ongoing institution or organization or be financially self-sustaining.
The Craft Heritage Corridor, for example, is using revenue from its guidebook to pay for reprinting, advertising, and trail management. The craft registry task force is studying several options of revenue generation including subscriptions for entry into the registry, sale of the registry, CD-ROM production, and kiosk systems at museums, exhibits, and design centers. The Craft Production Job Training Program can become a part of the Community College System curriculum based on student demand. The craft loan fund investment bank will be sustained by loan payments and continue under the direction of the Self-Help Credit Union.
Processes That Encourage Communitywide Collaboration The most effective factors in creating community collaboration in Handmade in America are related to the structure and process of creating new models for civic relationships.
The planning process not only created a model for new conversation between individuals but also operated under very democratic principles for developing governance.
The effect of writing and administering a grant or program "on behalf of" or "in cooperation with" another program eliminates turfism, builds pride in program "ownership," and stretches scarce resources and limited staff.
The emergence of HandMade's guiding principles, separate from the strategic plan and organizational bylaws, has created a framework for interaction and better understanding of HandMade's work.
The most intangible factor, however, contributing to the process of collaboration has been the "human factor." When people are provided an opportunity to spend time together and to interact with respect and creativitythey inevitably become interested and concerned for each other. They value each other as peoplepeople they met in the Handmade process and would not have known otherwise. As Wendell Berry writes about the process of community building in What Are People For?
But to be authentic, a true encouragement and a true beginning, this would have to be a revival accomplished mainly by the community itself. It would have to be done not from the outside by the instruction of visiting experts, but from the inside by the ancient rule of neighborliness, by the love of precious things, and by the wish to be at home. Handmade has mobilized this "human" factor around a shared vision: the vision that western North Carolina could become the center of handmade objects in the nation. That goal has kept Handmade in America from "politics as usual" and created something that speaks to the best in everyone.
(Wendell Berry, What Are People For? San Francisco: North Point Press. 1990, 169.)
Executive Director, Handmade in America
PO Box 2089
Asheville, NC 28802
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