Use Your Existing Arts and Cultural Assets to Build your Rural Tourism Destination

by Joanne Steele on October 26, 2009

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I just read a study by the US Cultural and Heritage Tourism Marketing Council with interesting information about the travel habits of cultural and heritage travelers. Thanks Yakima Valley Tourism for posting it on your blog!

I laughed because one of the characteristics of respondents was that over 1/3 reported being willing to travel between 100 and 300 miles for a day trip.

Well, that’s me! This weekend I took off east from Nashville, TN for the annual “Off the Beaten Path Studio Tour” of 11 artist’s studios tucked into the hills and hollows of rural DeKalb County, Tennessee, USA. Here is what I saw.

The question for you is, what is waiting to be discovered in your town?

After talking to artists and locals I’m not sure that the little town of Smithville is aware of how important all those artists’ studios are to them.

The Appalachian Center for Craft is located nearby, offering Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in a huge range of craft areas.

According to Jean Brady, a fine artist and instructor at the Center, graduates often locate their studios in the region. The beauty of the area is inspirational and the remoteness appeals to these creative craft artists.jeanbrady

Nurturing artists and providing them with sales outlets has enriched small towns all over the globe. My experience is with Carmel, California that has so many galleries one wonders how they all make a living.

…Until you spend a little time watching the commerce instead of viewing the art. People come to Carmel because quality art is available, and they buy.

In Smithville we visited the Stella Luna Art Gallery. The gallery was top notch and prices were amazing.

Several more galleries like Stella Luna and some good marketing in Nashville and Knoxville, and Smithville could be an arts destination. The artists live and work close by providing a constant supply of new art and the beautiful drive is an attraction in itself.

This is where some economic development experts need to give the tourism folks in Smithville a little help.

Any town that has hidden potential like this concentration of artists around Smithville should be knocking on the door of their Economic Development Association.

Many of the craft artists I talked to don’t show in galleries in the big cities because of the large percentages those galleries take when a piece is sold.

It would make sense for the artists and for the town to look at how cooperative galleries like Stella Luna could be subsidized. Yes! Just like counties subsidize big corporations like WalMart and Toyota.

With help, artists could show their wares locally and make more money. Cooperative galleries would need to charge artists enough for staffing, rent, lights and good marketing.

Smithville would benefit and so would the artists.

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