The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area kicked off the Blue Ridge Craft Trails this summer with a successful series of listening sessions around the region. The project team outlined the potential of an online portal to guide more visitors to the region, connecting collectors with craft makers while showcasing our historic craft schools, galleries, and festivals.
The seven listening sessions drew 119 participants to our partner sites: Blowing Rock Arts and History Center, John C. Campbell Folk School, Penland School of Craft and Toe River Arts Council, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Southern Highland Craft Guild, Tryon Arts and Crafts School, and Yadkin Cultural Arts Center.
Key comments included:
• The Blue Ridge Craft Trails project is a chance to gain national exposure.
• Bottom line, artists need more visitors to get more sales.
• The market for crafts appears to be changing especially with the Millennial Generation.
• Many artists are providing craft experiences, which could include studio tours, demonstrations, and hands-on classes.
We collected 84 paper surveys and followed up with an online survey of 256 more respondents. The project has, thus far, engaged 375 artists and sites.
Key Findings from Surveys
The team also hosted two Advisory Committee meetings during which we summarized comments from the Listening Sessions. Chris Cavanaugh, of Magellan Strategy Group, discussed results from the two surveys: Key findings included:
• The WNC craft sector appears highly fragmented in terms of the types of activities artists want to engage in. Many choose not to engage with visitors.
• In the online survey, only 6% said they thought studio tours were the most promising way to increase sales. Another 14% said they currently offer studio tours (12% said so in the paper survey).
• A majority of artists said they made some or all of living from crafts. But in the online survey, 29% of respondents reported that they make none of their living through crafts; in the paper survey, 19% said so.
• On average, respondents reported that only 5% of their revenue came from online sales.
Next Steps on Our Trail Development
Anna Fariello is also working to identify key cultural sites in all 25 counties to serve as anchor sites on the Craft Trails. Anchor sites would likely include schools, galleries, and arts councils with regular hours and open to the public. Subsequent work will be to expand the website listings to include individual artists and studios. Criteria for listings will be developed as the project advances in 2018.
Meanwhile, the team will conduct more research into the craft consumer market this spring to determine what visitors will be attracted by the Blue Ridge Craft Trails.
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 email@example.com for more info.