Making and Living: Three Communities Where Artisan Culture Thrives
Dancers flock to Broadway, programmers make their way to Silicon Valley, and actors move out to Hollywood. But where can small-scale artisans go to create and succeed? Here are three communities that foster creativity and encourage makers to thrive.
From the quaint beach communities just outside of town to the colorful, stately mansions along Rainbow Row, Charleston, SC offers a snapshot of true southern beauty. During the past decade Charleston has become a new artisan economy hub where young southern entrepreneurs and makers have leveraged authenticity of place to build successful brands, including Brackish bow ties, Rewined candles, Firefly Distillery, Affordabike custom-made bicycles and Callie’s Biscuits.
“We love aesthetics in Charleston, and when you work here as an artist, there’s an abundance of beautiful inspiration surrounding you,” says Stacy Huggins, executive director of Redux, a co-working space and collaborative studio for fine artists and artisans in Charleston. It certainly helps too that Charleston is a fairly wealthy community where residents and visitors with disposable income help support artist culture.
One way that Charleston’s artisans have been able to see success is by banding together to create shared opportunities. “There is a lovely and supportive community of artists in Charleston,” says Huggins, “It’s very much a non-competitive and supportive group.” Charleston Supported Art, for example, uses the community-supported-agriculture model to help artists secure a steady revenue stream. Members of the public can buy a share for $450, which guarantees them six original works from local makers and artists.
Mad River Valley, VT
Nestled between Burlington and Montpelier, Vermont’s Mad River Valley attracts, supports and inspires people to create. “I can live and work anywhere,” says David Leppla, artist and co-owner of the Mad River Glass Gallery. “I choose to be here.”
Artisans here produce a variety of handmade goods, ranging from thrown pottery to repurposed jewelry, but the area has seen particular success in the food and drink markets. The Mad River Valley is home to a slew of successful brands, including Liz Lovely, American Flatbread, Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Mad River Distillers.
“There’s a lot of great agriculture here,” says “Cowboy” Dan Holtz, co-owner and co-founder of Liz Lovely, a local bakery whose cookies are carried in thousands of retail stores across the country. “It’s inspiring to be able to get the best ingredients.”
To help small-time artisans break into their markets, the Mad River Food Hub offers a facility where small purveyors can access commercial kitchens, business planning resources, distribution channels and other tools to foster success. “Anyone with a dream can come here if there’s space,” says Joshua Gibbs, the Mad River Food Hub’s general manager.
Sometimes referred to as the “Brooklyn of San Francisco”, Oakland was once a haven for struggling artists who couldn’t afford to live across the Bay. Today, however, the city has an identity and energy all its own, and Oaklanders take pride in the fact that they live and work in this soulful sanctuary.
“Oakland has always had a rich and diverse culture, great food and amazing music, and now the world is finally starting to take notice,” said Alison Best, president & CEO of Visit Oakland.
In 2013, Oakland was named of America’s Top ArtPlaces due to its unique culture that engages residents and draws visitors interested in a creative culture. In fact, the city recently opened its first outdoor sculpture park, Uptown ArtPark, which transformed a vacant space that was formerly a Sears parking lot into a showplace for large-scale local art for the entire community to enjoy. This project is just one of several initiatives aimed at helping transform neglected sites into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core.
During the past several years, former warehouses and unoccupied spaces around Oakland have been transformed into maker spaces, positioning the city as an attractive place for new entrepreneurs to establish their businesses. From within these bastions of creativity, artisan brands like Two Jacks Denim, Myrrihia fine knitwear, Sugar Knife artisan sweets and Reb Peters Press letterpress printing have been born, grown and achieved success.
What makes these communities places where artisans thrive? Pride, authenticity of place, availability of resources, and a compassionate community of artisans and supporters who value exquisite craftsmanship.