Peer Sessions: Public Service/Government Agencies
Moderator: Fran Redmon, Kentucky Craft Program
June 2, 2006
1. Uncertainty is a challenge. When dealing with government agencies or public support, the responsibility for “arts and crafts” is often shifted between government agencies – for example, tourism, education or economic development. States have different and often changing structures providing varying amounts of funding. What is set up by one administration may be abandoned by the next. In 1985, Governor Thompson of Illinois created a well funded artisan program with no mission statement, just his ability to sign checks. Even in this enviable situation, it is necessary to look for other resources to fill in when the angel goes away.
2. Another challenge is finding resources that already exist. A registry of artists is available in some states. A database of ways to organize new programs is valuable to start-up organizations so they can cherry- pick ideas applicable to their needs Identification of other possible groups with which to cooperate is helpful. In North Carolina there is a council in each county with representatives from diverse cultural assets (crafts, historic, musical). They look for projects that can be developed into regional programs or events that are more likely to qualify for state funding than are strictly local proposals. In Kentucky, the markets that were created to wholesale local crafts to more appreciative out-of-state audiences stirred up an interest among the in-state public. Business skills and marketing know-how courses are valuable to the artisans.
3. Pilot programs are an important way to get something off the ground – some people need to see that an idea is beneficial to others before they will join. Enlist willing participants in the pilot program as guinea pigs, use their feed-back and others will be attracted if the project is successful. Oregon Crafted started with a as a four-county publication model and now many more counties want to participate. The challenge is to transition between “pilot program” -- often funded because it is a sexy new trend-- and into permanent funding. If an organization can show that they are an economic asset, this will be an aid when lobbying the Legislators for recognition and funding.
4. Communities that want economic development often only consider something imported – a factory or a bio-tech industry. The challenge is to convince people that their own art/craft/historic resources are a viable way to brand their community. “Market your otherness”. Eureka Springs (Arkansas) followed this model and is successful. Look for properties that can be developed into arts centers/studios. This model may start with an artist-in-residence program of a craft school. Graduates of the school may locate in that region and form an economic force. Highway 23 -- Music Highway in Kentucky – many different community groups created a driving tour which markets music, attractions and museums.
5. Success has its own challenges. Growing too quickly may not guarantee success. It may be better to address a single need, be successful at that, and then grow from there, building infrastructure and expanding slowly. If everyone wants to join a successful new program, there is a danger of losing the original focus. If, for example, a local and popular craft outlet starts hosting performances, selling books and food, the original purpose may be diluted.
June 3, 2006
In order to create a successful public service/government agency that builds the economy while helping artists solve their challenges with production and marketing, there are a number of necessary processes.
Identify what resources exist and who is already doing something that could be used as a model. CODA is a good place to learn how other states handle challenges.
A CODA-like organization on a state level would be helpful.
Get the artists and craftspeople together to share successes and identify problems. In large states or those with difficult geography, getting people together physically is often not possible. In Alaska the Community and Native Arts Program provides toll-free teleconferences. Constituents set the agenda and give reports from the field, share job information, give technical assistance. This telephone link provides a regular and consistent source of information for a widely dispersed population. Getting the artists to talk to each other in any format is a breakthrough. One goal is to make them see each other, not as competition, but as partners in growing the field. In Oregon a group of artisans connected by Oregon Crafted started talking and ended up forming a small art walk. When creating a database of artists, the NEA codes are helpful in defining an artist.
Teach the artists to use the appropriate business technology. Some artists are resistant to computer technology or it is not available to them. Public agencies need to stress that access to the web is a business decision that may make the difference between success and failure. An agency can provide tools and training, but the artist is ultimately responsible for adapting to the modern marketplace. Hone in on the willing ones, get them together and use them as an example. Let the technologically successful ones train others. To stress the importance of using a computer in business, several states take applications for grants or markets only on line. Even if an individual does not own the technology, the resources of schools and libraries in their community can be used. Students often help computer-challenged adults. To facilitate use of photography technology, Alaska sends a “Studio in a Box” to native artists. This includes a camera, a back drop, a tripod and slide casings to those who need photos for juried shows applications or for marketing purposes. In addition, Alaska has published a crafts marketing handbook for Native Americans. In Texas, photographers help artists at orientations. The Kentucky Craft Marketing Program goes out into the field to train craftspeople – a “Pre-Jury” session to prepare interested artisans for the jury and program activities. Staff councils them on their art, suggests changes to improve the product and its marketing. This pre-jury effort raises the quality of the crafts coming to be juried. Peer advisory programs send artists to studios for on-site mentoring.
Often Federal programs provide training. In Alaska the Veterans Work Programs provide workshops for the poor and homeless and teach power tool skills to veterans who want to build traditional crafts. Substance Abuse Programs have training, as does Social Security Disability. Consignment sales are another outlet for artists, and training in the required contracts is valuable. The standard craft consignment software is ATREX.
Teach the artists and the retailers/wholesalers to clearly understand each others needs. In Alaska the native artists who don’t just do direct marketing (from their home) need training to understand the needs of the retail seller. Although native artists are often involved in subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering that cause them to be “out of the studio” for long periods, they have to cooperate with the retail vendors, need a consistent supply of product and definite delivery dates. Native artisans also have to be aware of the markup that will be added to the price of their product. In promoting craft as tourism, retailers are equal partners. They benefit from training as well, and are appreciative since small businesses often have a hard time getting support. Kentucky does awards, a newsletter, and workshops for retailers. In addition, artists have to partner with retailers to get a product development grant. Training gets these retailers together, talking to each other and seeing each others shops. In North Carolina a private message board only available to craft shops provides a hub of communication. New York has had a success with sending out an e-mail newsletter to 14 counties which is full of info on openings, closings, shows. Nadia Korths collects information on SBA workshops and brokers it out to artists as well as doing on site workshops herself. Texas holds best practices meeting and workshops for artists that include the nuts and bolts – hands-on practical business forms. Extension agents are trained via video-conference.
Build trust that you are a “go to” organization. As an agency it is important to explain what you can’t do – Refer artists to other people or organizations who can offer help. Being consistently available with a wide range of information builds trust, but implying you can do things you can’t destroys that trust. To overcome inter-agency (governmental) rivalry, often the “underlings” create links that the directors will not. Find the willing players who will exchange lists and information. It will make your agency more beneficial if you can demonstrate cooperation on your level as well.
Find a way to measure success of the program. Quantifying success is important to the future of agencies depending on government funding. Success can be measured as an increase in sales and/or visits by individual artists or by retailers. It can be the creation of vibrant community centers. Success also means an agency not becoming a permanent crutch – the goal is to train the artists and retailers to be successful on their own.