Monday, April 29, 2002

Conference studies Appalachian cultural draws

By Martha Waggoner
Associated Press

        RALEIGH, N.C. — In Buncombe County, visitors pay hundreds of dollars to work in someone else's herb garden, cook in someone else's kitchen and then eat a seven-course meal. In Yancey County, methane gas from a former landfill fuels potters' kilns and glassblowers' furnaces.

        And throughout western North Carolina, tours of farms that grow produce as varied as daylily and bonsai are so popular that a new guidebook of 500 sites is available.

        These destinations are examples of the arts- and cultural-based economy that delegations from across Appalachia will discuss today and Tuesday at a conference in Asheville. About 330 people are expected at the conference, titled “Building Creative Economies: The Arts, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development in Appalachia.”

        Originally envisioned as a conference for the 13 states of Appalachia — Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — the program has instead attracted people from about 30 states.

        They include representatives from the Adirondacks of New York, the Sierra Nevada of California and the Cascades of Oregon.

        “We've touched off a recognition nationwide of what mountain economies and communities are facing,” said Becky Anderson, executive director of Asheville-based Handmade in America, one of the conference sponsors.

        The traditional economic engines of mountain communities — mining, timber, furniture and textiles — are in a decline, Ms. Anderson said.

        The conference is about “what do you do in their place and how do you build on it?” she said.

        “I think this is the beginning of a movement,” Ms. Anderson said. “We've got a great culture, a great heritage. We're talking about the handmade object, music, even the venue of storytelling.”

        Handmade in America, begun in 1994, is a nonprofit that serves 23 western North Carolina counties by helping them develop economies around crafts.

        Craft sales in the United States range from $12.3 billion to $13.8 billion annually, according to a 2001 study commissioned by the Craft Organization Directors Association and done by the Center for Business Research at Appalachian State University in Boone.

        Western North Carolina is home to more than 4,000 artisans, including more than 700 full-time craftsmen who earn an average of $35,000 a year, the ASU study indicated.

        The conference came about due to a partnership of the Appalachian Regional Commission, — which focuses on the economic conditions of the region — and the National Endowment for the Arts. They looked at “how to build an economy around the heritage and culture of a region,” Ms. Anderson said.

        They organized a conference with seminars on topics that include conserving local heritage and tradition, marketing and distribution, and incubating arts businesses.

        State delegations include artists, cultural specialists, business people, and philanthropic and government leaders.

        Among them will be Ron Daley, campus director of the Knott County, Ky., branch of Hazard Community College and one of the leaders of a plan to develop an arts-based economy in the town of Hindman, population 900.

        Those plans include a Kentucky School of Craft, an artisans' center, a business incubator for artisans and classes at HCC's Knott County campus. The artisans' center was dedicated in December, while the groundbreaking for the craft school will be held next month.


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