Working Under a New Global Economic Model
Region's Arts Community Might Actually Be 'Ahead of the Curve'
January 18, 2009*** Reprinted by permission from the Dec. 2008 newsletter of 'Round the Mountain (RTM): Southwest Virginia's Artisan Network ***
RTM in 2009: Developing the Creative Economy
As we enter 2009, we look back on our four-year history and also forward to the challenges ahead. Creating a non-profit in Southwest Virginia dedicated to craft was a natural because of the quality and enthusiasm of our craft community. Building an organization that is truly useful and relevant to that community, and to the needs of our members, and the communities they live in is another matter, a tall order, but something we feel very committed to.
As we move into the new year, everyone is talking about the economy. This is true in Southwest Virginia and around the globe. Manufacturing facilities in Virginia are downsizing, but the same is true of plants in India and China. People everywhere are scratching their heads and wondering what happened and what will come next. Even the economists don't agree on the cause or the eventual effect or what to do. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that times are changing and we won't be returning to the economy of the past any time soon. Once we get over the shock of feeling the earth shake under our feet at this news, we can look around and think what it means for us. For me, for you, and all of us here at RTM.
When we started RTM, it was based to a large degree on the ideas of the "Creative Economy" and "Asset-Based Economic Development." Books had been written, most notably by Richard Florida, about these ideas, and they seemed valid and useful ideas for our region. But this was not really new; people and communities throughout Southwest Virginia had been developing their own creative assets in their own way for years. What RTM sought to do was to organize and coordinate these efforts and make it easier for artisans and communities to identify and develop their own skills and possibilities. And today we see the framework of RTM taking form, a coordinated network of people and ideas working together and becoming a useful organization. It is a big task, and it is coming at just the right moment.
The rational for developing the creative assets in any community is both cultural and economic. If communities could begin to better identify with their traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, it would strengthen their sense of community. From an economic standpoint, artisans and their communities could develop locally made products that would attract interest from visitors who would spend time and money in those communities. It would make local economies less dependent on national and global strategies. Granted, craft does not replace industry overnight or maybe ever, but it adds an ounce here and a pound there to the exchange. And something else of value, as each artisan in any community brings a sense of style and independence. This is, what we can do ourselves with our own two hands and our own imagination. The objects we make are representative of our generation, of our lifestyle, as we relate to the environment around us. It is reflective of our community and that can't be outsourced to Indonesia or anywhere else.
So, as we move forward into 2009, with a new administration in Washington and into the unknowns of a global recession, we want to remain cognizant of the changing landscape around us. 2009 will be the year our Artisan Trail Network gets launched, that we begin the jurying of craft for Heartwood, that we further develop educational opportunities for established artisans and novices, that we strengthen our web presence, and that we do more to help communities all across Southwest Virginia develop their creative assets. And we do this with the realization that we will be working under a new global economic model. It is interesting to consider that we might actually be slightly ahead of the curve. Because we're not making cars, or clothes, or TV's or consumer products by the boatload, we're slowly creating a sustainable local economy that is less vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of international commerce, an economy that is rooted in neighbors and neighborhoods. And wasn't that part of why we started this initiative in the first place? 2009 may be the year we understand better if our theories hold up to reality.
Good Luck and Best Wishes in 2009!
RTM Board President