Blazing an Artisan Trail

Grant funds study to create future
artisan program along Ohio River

By Levi King
Staff Writer

(August 2005) – Indiana craftpersons and retailers along the Ohio River may soon benefit from a developing artisan program. State officials have awarded a grant to the Ohio River Scenic Byway to conduct a feasibility study for an artisan program. The program would include 21 counties on or directly north of the Ohio River.

Jenny Slover

Photo by Don Ward

Jenny Slover of
Vevay, Ind., supports
the trail idea.

Byway committee officials contracted Kathy Werking and Werking Communities Inc. to conduct the study. Werking, an artist and gallery owner from Midway, Ky., has been surveying artisans and retailers in the included counties since May. At a July meeting of artisans, retailers and tourism directors at the Madison Art Club and Gallery, Werking explained the basis of the project. “There’s a real need for a network of artisans and retailers,” she said.
Artisans include craftspeople, fine artists, winemakers, cheese makers, and gourmet or specialty food makers. Retail outlets surveyed include retail spaces, such as gift stores, galleries or state park gift shops engaged in the sale of handmade crafts, arts or specialty foods.
Werking contacted more than 500 individuals and business, and is now in the process of evaluating surveys as they are returned. From the surveys, Werking hopes to gather information about the artisan and retailers’ products, sales and marketing, as well as suggestions for the program. Werking will conclude the feasibility study in November and make her recommendations to the Byway committee. At that point, additional funding will be required to implement the program.
Data from the study will guide the specifics of the project. From her experience with similar programs in Kentucky, Werking said she has a good idea of what the trail could entail.
“I expect this to lead to both a marketing cluster and a training initiative,” she said. “At the very least, it will be a driving trail in association with the byway.”
Werking expects to develop training materials and seminars for the businesses and individuals involved. “We’ll want to teach business skills to artisans, like how to wholesale their products and how to set price schedules. For retailers, we would focus more on hospitality training,” she said. Training on hosting workshops could be offered to both retailers and artisans.
Perhaps Werking’s largest responsibility will be developing marketing strategies for the artisan network. Werking helped develop the Kentucky Artisan Heritage Trails program, which covers much of eastern Kentucky.
The KAHT.com website provides maps, addresses and descriptions of the participating businesses. The site provides viewers with maps of trails indicating points of interest, allowing for convenient daytrips. The webmaster maintains an online calendar of relevant festivals and events throughout the areas covered. Retailers are also cataloged by product category, such as sculpture and dolls, antiques, and ceramics and glass, allowing users to easily locate desired items.
“The website is exactly the thing we are hoping to develop from this project,” said Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Lytle and other tourism directors in the participating counties have been instrumental in locating artisans and retailers. Werking said that a similar website is likely, and for a small fee, participating retailers and studios would fill out a template to provide web viewers with a business and product description as well as photos, hours and contact information.
Betty Manning, who co-owns and operates Stream Cliff Farms in Commiskey, Ind., said the program could help connect her with artists and artisans who create appropriate goods for her retail space.
“Without some kind of coordination, sometimes it’s tough to match the retailer with the person,” she said. “I’ll have artists come to me with their products, but often it’s something that doesn’t work for us. I look for pieces that are in keeping with the period of the farm.”
Vevay, Ind., soap maker Jenny Slover hopes the program will lead to a “branding effect” like that of the Kentucky Crafted marketing program. “When I see the Kentucky Crafted logo, I expect to find a superior product,” Slover said.
The Kentucky Arts Council has operated the Kentucky Crafted marketing program for 25 years. The program certifies hand-crafted goods as authentic through a jurying process. Those who do not pass are placed in a mentoring program until their work is determined to be of an adequate caliber, at which point they can carry the Kentucky Crafted logo on their products and participate in the annual Kentucky Crafted Market Show, held each spring in Louisville.
Werking said a similar program could be in store for the Indiana trail, but it is not the first priority. She hopes the Indiana trail could eventually partner with the Kentucky Arts Council to avoid “reinventing the wheel” and requiring the creation and funding of a new state agency.

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