The Craft Trails project builds on the groundbreaking work of HandMade in America, a nonprofit which created the original Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina in the 1990s, connecting visitors to hundreds of craft studios, galleries, schools, historic places and inns across the mountains. The 3rd edition of the Craft Heritage Trail book was published in 2003, featuring nearly 500 different sites.
This project will update those listings for the digital age, offering an online portal for desktop and mobile applications. As phases of the project are completed, technology will allow collectors to connect with craft artisans to purchase their wares and visit the studios, galleries and festivals in Western North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Craft Trails project is funded with a $90,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and contributions from the North Carolina Arts Council and WNC Community Foundation.
The listening sessions drew more than 110 participants. Exposure and experiential tourism are themes that emerged in both comments and written surveys taken at the seven listening sessions. Key comments from participants included:
• Participants (artists, arts organizations, tourism entities) overwhelmingly welcomed the idea.
• Training artists in marketing and interpretation would be helpful. That came up repeatedly.
• Visitors should be educated in etiquette, expectations, and the significance of the traditions.
• Many suggested a robust itinerary builder on the website module that would allow visitors to the region to identify and navigate their way to specific craft artists in the 25-county region.
• The Blue Ridge Craft Trails project is a chance to gain national exposure. Tennessee and Virginia have made significant investments in marketing their craft artists.
• The website should be geared to the needs of visitors interested in authentic craft. Bottom line, artists need more visitors to get more sales.
• The market for crafts appears to be changing, and there may need to be greater emphasis placed on providing craft experiences, which could include studio tours, demonstrations, and hands-on classes. “Visitors really want something to do.” The millennial generation wants engagement and activity rather than just making purchases.
Clay Club meets at artist studios and other locations throughout Western North Carolina, usually on the second Wednesday of the month. All potters and ceramic artists are welcome! Look for details about the meetings here on the blog or contact Amy Waller at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.