Building Assets for the Rural Future

Create Artist and Artisan Space in the Community

The Opportunity

Rural North Carolina has a rich history in arts such as music, traditional crafts, and pottery. It is not uncommon in North Carolina for communities to celebrate their cultural assets or uniqueness—and attract tourists—through cultural festivals, ranging from blue grass festivals to pottery fairs.[1] Other communities seek to capitalize on local artisan talents by selling wares through programs such as HandMade in America.[2] One recent study estimates that cultural industries in North Carolina contribute almost $20 million to the state’s gross domestic product and sustain more than $10 billion in employee wages.[3] Those aggregate figures mask the fact that new or developing artists and artisans typically make meager wages, and their version of entrepreneurship could benefit from a supportive culture in the same way as discussed for other entrepreneurs (see 2.3. Support Rural & Low-Wealth Entrepreneurs, page 57). To support and encourage local cultural talent, some communities have established community spaces for them.

How the Tactic Is Applied

  • Create unique local spaces for artists
  • Link efforts to successful cultural economies in the region

Create Unique Local Spaces for Artists

Jackson County Green Energy Park (North Carolina)

Artists may have unique space needs for their craft, such as studio space, dark rooms, kilns, and sound-proof rooms. Communities that identify local cultural strengths may be able to capitalize on the talents of local artists and artisans. For example, Dillsboro and Jackson County cultivated their rich craft heritage of blacksmiths, potters, and glassblowers by constructing artisan studios powered by methane gas from the county landfill.[4] Artisans are granted up to three years of residency, during which time they receive technical assistance and free energy. The original model for the Jackson County project is found in Yancey and Mitchell Counties at the EnergyXchange.[5]

Link Efforts to Successful Cultural Economies in the Region

STARworks Center for Creative Enterprises (North Carolina)

In rural Montgomery County, NC, the STARworks Center for Creative Enterprises was established in a renovated sock factory and now contains space designed for ceramics and glass artists and artisans.[6] The space holds a clay factory to process clay for use and sale, and it offers equipment and studio space for rent.[7] By gearing the space toward ceramics and glass production, the Center builds on the success of a regional culture center, Seagrove, North Carolina, which is renowned for pottery and is located less than 15 miles away. The STARWorks executive director viewed glass as an “artistic companion” to Seagrove’s pottery.[8] Since the establishment of the Center in late 2005, STARworks has attracted resident artisans from Kentucky, Louisiana, and even as far away as Japan.[9]

Learn More

Timm Muth
Jackson County Green Energy Park
Sylva, NC

On the Internet

EnergyXchange Craft Studios

HandMade in America

STARworks Center for Creative Enterprise

[1] See Gary Paul Green and Anna Haines, Asset Building and Community Development 223 (2d ed. 2008) (noting that local culture is what makes a community distinctive and that those communities that do build on the unique assets have the greatest potential for growth).

[2] See HandMade in America, Who we Are: Mission & Guiding Principles, http://www.handmadeinamerica.org/about.

[3] N.C. Department of Commerce, Economic Contribution of North Carolina’s Cultural Industries 2 (2009), available at http://www.ncarts.org/elements/docs/CommerceEconomicContributionReport_June2009.pdf. See also Ann Markusen, A Consumption Base Theory of Development: An Application to the Rural Cultural Economy, 36 Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 9-23 (2007) (finding that rural community investment in artists’ centers, artists’ live/work spaces, and performing arts centers increased local spending, attracted artists as new residents, and brought in consumers from outside areas).

[4] See Jackson County Green Energy Park, Fueling the Crafts Industry, http://www.jcgep.org/crafts.html.

[6] STARworks Center for Creative Economy, About STARworks, http://www.starworksnc.org/about.htm.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jeri Rowe, Creative Comeback, Our State 98, 103 (July 2009) (describing the grant award for the construction of a glass-making studio as an “artistic companion” to Seagrove)

[9] Rowe, above note 8, at 105-108.