Purpose Prize Fellow 2007
Using arts and culture to drive regional economic and civic development.
The Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina – in Appalachia – have long been home to the poorest communities in the state. So in 1994 Rebecca Anderson, now 67, used her two decades of experience in community and economic development to drum up a regional revitalization strategy based on one of the region’s greatest strengths – its community of 4000 artisans. Her organization, HandMade in America, markets regional crafts to boost the area’s manufacturing economy. Tens of thousands of new visitors have visited the area’s galleries, studios, lodging and restaurants, drawn by two HandMade guidebooks promoting agricultural tourism and local culture. In her work with the regional artisans, Anderson noticed that many were importing raw materials from overseas to create their products – materials that are native to North Carolina. In response, she developed a partnership with the North Carolina Arboretum to grow these source materials locally in craft gardens, which now supply native straw, plants and natural dyes for the basketry, paper, broom-making and weaving businesses. Furthering Anderson’s interest in protecting the environment and saving money, methane from local landfills is now being used to provide low-cost energy for a system of studio business incubators, offering space for artists working with glass, ceramics, and wood. Overall, HandMade initiatives have created hundreds of jobs, generated $20 million in additional craft revenue, leveraged $38 million in public and private investment in the 12 small towns, and encouraged over 164,000 volunteer hours throughout the region. Anderson is also the driving force behind the HandMade Institute, which provides training and technical assistance to replicate the HandMade model in other communities.