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In an ideal society, the value of art would speak for itself. Private and public institutions could be counted on for their unwavering financial support, and policy makers would inherently recognize the value that art and craft bring to a community's quality of life and economic well-being.  

Therein lies the problem, according to Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts: Since artists and craftspeople are unaccustomed to trumpeting their own cause, the value of their industry has gone vastly unrecognized by those who make decisions to support the arts and crafts industry.  

"Arts have not been good at lobbying like, say, the truckers," says Lynch. "We're having to make up ground to show the value of an industry that we already have."  

Lynch was the keynote speaker at the Craft Organization Development Association (CODA) convention in Berea, Ky., in June. The event was sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program, Hazard Community and Technical College, Brown–Forman, Berea College, and The Crafts Report.  

In his presentation, entitled "America at a Cultural Crossroads: Creativity, Craft and Community in the 21st Century," Lynch says art and craft advocates must adopt aggressive new strategies to advertise the benefits of their industry, including growing a grassroots network that can reach out to private and public decision makers.  

For that reason, Americans for the Arts is working to create a citizen army of 100,000 advocates over the next five years ‑ what Lynch describes as a "Sierra Club" for the arts that can help persuade decision makers to invest in art and crafts as an engine for economic development.  

"Local leaders that use the arts to address community development is something that has generally caught on in this country, and you can see what they are thinking about: city fiscal conditions, jobs, quality of life issues are at the core of their concerns, and when we make the arts connected to those issues, we make an impact," Lynch says. 

Though CODA's 2001 craft industry survey was, according to Lynch, a crucial first step in providing evidence that craft contributes to the economy, he notes that legislators and public officials need more specific, more locally based data that proves that craft matters in the communities they represent. Providing data about how many craft jobs are in the area, how much those businesses generate in tax dollars, and estimates of how much craft businesses benefit the local tourism and hospitality industries are far more effective in reaching policy makers than more general arguments about the intrinsic value of art and craft. In other words, a legislator may not see the value of a local pottery exhibition, but he or she will more than likely recognize the value of tourism and jobs.


"Case-making information becomes really important," Lynch says. "Can we put it in front of a congressman? That becomes really important because the thing we hear the most from elected officials is that the arts really do not matter in my town, so why should I care about them? Now we know what decision makers want. We also ask advocates what works and by far, the number one kind of argument that works are practical, job and economy-related arguments."

At a panel titled "Crafts Work for Communities," Scooter Davison, Randy Stone & Ken vonRoenn Jr., describe how arts were instrumental in driving community development.

In a panel discussion following Lynch's presentation, Berea City Manager Randy Stone described his city's experience of how advocacy for economic arts development has changed the face of his community.

In 1996, Berea's crafts industry was in an economic slump, tourism was suffering, and the voices of the city's artisans were not being heard. That changed after a tornado devastated an arts district in the city.

In the wake of the tornado, some of the city's artists, with the help from other community leaders, became vocal advocates for the creation of an artisan center. That effort caught the attention of city leaders and state officials, who began to recognize Berea's artisans as significant players in the region's economy and political process.

What resulted was $8 million in state funding for the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, a project which became the foundation for additional city improvement projects. Stone says the city learned from its success in building the artisan center, securing federal grants to bury utility lines, repair sidewalks and install decorative streetlights. Moreover, the state reconstructed a new gateway into the city at a cost of $6 million.

"The Artisan Center has been a working model for the city to see how we can get things done," Stone says. "It has given us a vision as a whole to express our needs and solve the problems that this community has. It has given us a vision to dream dreams and to see them come to pass."  

From the city of Paducah, Ky., Artist Relocation Program Coordinator Mark Barone says his city, like Berea, has created a successful community improvement project by using arts as an engine for economic development. Addressing a panel entitled, "Crafts Work for Communities," Barone described how a neighborhood in Paducah, which had been blighted for decades, is now being transformed into a vibrant artist community, luring 62 artists from 26 states around the country.  

With a combination of public and private investment, Paducah's Artist Relocation Program attracts three to five new artisans per week, providing studio, gallery and living spaces that are fully financed for artisans willing to relocate.

Barone says that where previous efforts have failed to revitalize that area of the city, the arts and crafts economy has succeeded.  

"We needed [the city and private investors] to fund us to get this thing turned around, and we happened to use the arts to do it," Barone says. "The arts aren't an island. They need public and private investment. I don't think we would have done it without the city. I don't think we could have done it without private investors that wanted to be involved with it."  

Lynch notes that funding for arts and craft exists on what he calls a "very fragile ecosystem," but one positive sign that local governments are recognizing the value of craft is the steady increase in funding from local government based on community development and the arts. That, in turn, has prompted a seemingly greater tolerance of small tax increases that benefit the arts, including hotel taxes, restaurant taxes, and even a golf tax in Portland, Ore., where golfers on public courses pay $1 a game to benefit local arts. State money, meanwhile, is less predictable, according to Lynch, ebbing and flowing with the fortunes of state coffers.  

One area where advocates must continue working is in private sector funding, where giving for the arts is apparently in decline.  

"When we look at the share of dollars coming to the arts, the share is decreasing," says Lynch, who suggests that more private and institutional dollars are going to fund projects other than art and craft, including education. "We as an industry — craft, art — need to reassert ourselves and put our message to the private decision makers as well." Lynch's message was well received by conference goers like Cheryl Hartley, general manager of Tamarack in West Virginia. Hartley says that while some progress has been made, Lynch made it clear that the effort must continue if the craft economy is to grow. "Influencing policymakers to support the craft industry or the creative economy is one of our top challenges. The 2001 CODA survey did bring attention to craft as a viable industry, but there is still so much work to be done," Hartley says. "I think CODA is poised to do much more to help organizations expand their influence in this arena." TCR  

Andy McDonald is a Kentucky-based free-lance writer and journalist.  

Reprinted with permission from The Crafts Report. www.craftsreport.com


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