Did you know that cultural tourists—those looking for an arts-based travel experience—are the fastest-growing segment of American travel? These travelers are willing to pay for unique, authentic experiences and interesting connections to local cuisines and craftspeople. American Craft Week (ACW) is ready to tap into this expanding market by giving arts and entertainment districts, visitors’ bureaus, and tourism organizations a ready-made blueprint for attracting cultural tourists.
When ACW began in 2010, its purpose was to put handmade American craft into the national spotlight. Without deep pockets, organizers mounted a grassroots effort, asking everyone in the craft industry “to make some noise” about craft during the 10-day October celebration. “We wanted the world to know American craft is a valuable enterprise,” ACW founder Diane Sulg emphasizes. “Craft beautifies our surroundings, records our history, and creates a vibrant economy. It was time to join together and tell the world.”
In craft-rich Western North Carolina, longtime arts advocate Sherry Masters (now co-chair of ACW) had the idea of calling together everyone who already produced October craft events to mount a coordinated, well-publicized event. Thus was born the first regional celebration, “Western North Carolina Celebrates American Craft Week.” It proved so successful the participants list has grown to include colleges, festivals, an arts district, several arts organizations, and many galleries.
There are now huge ACW events generating publicity and tourism dollars all across the country. In 2013, ACW saw support from its first visitors’ bureau when the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau stepped up to organize and promote a unique event for their Pennsylvania craftspeople. Director Shireen Farr is enthusiastic about ACW, saying, “It allowed the CVVB to spotlight our local artisan community and promote local shopping to both residents and visitors.”
Meanwhile, in Vermont, the State Tourism Department took the initiative to sponsor ACW. Last fall, more than 150 craft-centered events beckoned visitors to see and buy craft made by thousands of Vermont craftspeople at studio tours, galleries, and festivals. As Catherine Brooks from the Vermont Dept. of Tourism and Marketing explains, “These cultural travelers tend to stay longer, spend more, and bring home unique items that reflect their travels. Fine craft and cultural tourism is a perfect match. American Craft Week is one of the tools we use to support both.”
In a move designed to encourage the cultural tourism trend, ACW organizers held their first-ever Kickstarter fund-raising campaign. They successfully raised money to design, print, and distribute a Cultural Tourism Kit.
“Essentially ACW is a marketing tool for both craft businesses and their communities. It is designed to attract customers and tourists at the beginning of the all-important fourth quarter,” points out Sulg. “Every town, city, region, or state has talented artists and craft businesses. When you plan an ACW event, you can include them all—from the one-person craft studio to the gallery, from a festival to a huge museum. Truly, the more the merrier!”
The ACW committee is now distributing the Cultural Tourism Kits to arts and tourism organizations in every state. They invite readers to be part of the process by going to the ACW website and naming an organization or individual to receive a kit.
For more information, visit Americancraftweek.com. The 2014 American Craft Week will be held October 3-12. It is presented by CRAFT (Craft Retailers and Artists for Tomorrow) and produced by a nine-member volunteer committee from eight states across America.