You can’t rely on traditional economic development to save your community. That’s why local entrepreneurs can make a big difference in rural prosperity. And crafters are a plentiful source for potential entrepreneurs in rural places. Lots of rural people have a creative hobby or tiny business using their arts, crafts or maker skills. We have a rich local culture, local natural resources and authentic local identity to tap. I imagine you do too. Look at our video Rural Craft Entrepreneurship to learn how to cultivate those local crafters. They are your new entrepreneurs.
I want to share with you about an arts organization I volunteer at in my town of Webster City Iowa. Legacy Learning Boone River Valley is a non-profit organization that teaches art workshops, brings nature into the mix and promotes the local artists and crafters. Some of the workshops are a throwback to the days when Swedish and Danish immigrants spent the winter teaching their families the old arts, like hardinger and tatting.
I took one workshop on making rag rugs from old bedsheets. No sewing involved! That was two years ago and I’m still making rugs. They make me think of my grandmother because she loved these kinds of rugs. The artisan who taught the course makes and sells these rugs as a side business. She’s an entrepreneur in her small town.
We’ve found out there are many artists and crafters in our own town. One project we held was a 10 day gallery showing in a vacant office space. The local artists brought their paintings and sculptures and clay pieces to the site, arranged them, and added price tags. The vacant space was already rented, and this was a way for the new tenant to receive some free publicity. The gallery was open from 5 to 7 pm all ten days.
Members of the community came and supported this one time event. It was designed to be casual, non threatening and a time to meet the artists and crafters, and local folks came to visit. Some bought items, many enjoyed the exhibition and others came up with ideas for other local artists to try this again.
Residents shared their stories too. An uncle who painted tractors, a friend who quilts, a cousin who owns a forge and makes things – all entrepreneurs in their own way. These stories tell more about us as a town than any marketing campaign could. We like art. We like crafting and making. It’s part of our cultural heritage.
We build community by supporting artists in town too. Mo has her own studio and retail shop. Tim makes life size art for public areas from his shop. JoAnn sells her paintings online. Madalyn teaches art in middle school, and workshops at Legacy Learning. All of these businesses bring revenue into our town. They also had a quality of life aspect to who we are. My town has working artists and crafters and welcomes others.
Do you need a non profit organization to make art happen in your town? No, definitely not. You simply want to gather your crowd around the big idea of supporting your local artists. You’ll connect with others that you don’t know and some you do know. You’ll take small steps like posting a picture on Facebook of local art. Or asking your followers who they know that are artists. You’ll arrange to meet some of the artists you may not know. You and your crowd will help raise the quality of life in your small town. And that’s Idea Friendly.
The big lesson I want you to take away is to use what you have. Even if you think it’s not much. Even if all you have is the dirt under your feet, there’s a story to be told that adds real value to your community.