Crafts are big business in Asheville, WNC

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Tons of info in this press release about the Western North Carolina craft industry:

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Linda A. Carlisle today unveiled the findings of a new research study which shows that the professional craft industry contributes $206.5 million into Western North Carolina’s economy each year (

The report, Economic Impact of the Professional Craft Industry in Western North Carolina, is an update of the first such study undertaken in 1995 by the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University. That survey reported the economic impact of craft across the region to be $122 million. The recent update was commissioned by Asheville-based Handmade In America, along with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, Haywood Community College, Penland School of Crafts, UNC-Asheville and the UNC Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design, and it was analyzed by DESS Business Research. Findings indicate a significant growth in the regional economic impact of craft.

“Craft feeds the heart and families throughout western North Carolina,” Carlisle said. “This new research study highlights the leadership, entrepreneurship and educational resources of this nimble industry, and provides in-depth information about the financial support it brings to the region.”

The study undertaken in 2008 focused on the 25 counties comprising Western North Carolina, and measured the total annual economic impact of craft artists ($86.2 million), craft consumers ($31.5 million), craft retail galleries ($57.7 million), craft schools ($11.8 million), craft non-profit organizations ($4.4 million), and craft suppliers and publishers ($15 million). The findings conclude that the region is well-established as a leading center for craft production and education within the United States and, as such, is both a significant growth industry and a draw for tourists, one of our region’s main sources of revenue.

“This new craft report is a potent tool that we at the Department of Cultural Resources can use as we talk about the impact of the creative economy in our state,” Carlisle said.

A highlight of the report is the recognition that the number of artisans in our region has increased 198 % since the original study. In the 13 years between 1995 and 2008, the number of professional art and craft producers rose from 739 to 2,200. Of these 2,200 professional craft artists and producers:
56 % operate a full-time business. Many also teach at area schools, colleges and universities.
33 % have full- and/or part-time employees.
$48,000 is the median household income for artists.
66 % of respondents have at least a college degree.
33 % have lived in WNC more than 20 years, including many second-generation artists.
16 % of respondents are new arrivals within the last five years; Western North Carolina attracts both relocating professional artists and emerging younger crafts artists
50 % of graduates from area craft residency programs remain in WNC to establish their own studios
65 % of craft artists have their work marketed with WNC, 8 % in North Carolina outside the region and 25 % outside the state
Craft retail galleries have an annual economic impact of $57.7 million. There are more than 130 craft galleries in Western North Carolina with average annual gross sales of $500,000.
70 % of the galleries’ inventory is produced in WNC
62 % of the sales are to tourists/visitors
3.6 is the average number of full-time gallery employees, with the largest gallery having 60 full-time employees
33 % of Western North Carolina galleries have been in existence for 10 or more years
20 of the 100 galleries surveyed are located in the city of Asheville, while the majority of galleries are found in small towns and villages; the Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro, for example, represents 125 craft artists, and Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville showcases the work of 90 area craft artists
Craft consumers have an annual economic impact of $31.5 million. Tourism, vital to Western North Carolina’s Economy, relies on the area’s rich cultural and artistic energy to attract visitors. The survey indicates that 60 % of craft consumers come from 38 other states, Canada and Mexico, and 16 % come from other regions of North Carolina.
57 % of craft consumers have household incomes above $75,000
72 % graduated from college and are between the ages of 36 and 65
56 % of craft consumers stay overnight for an average of 3.7 nights
$642 per visit is the average amount spent by craft consumers coming to Western North Carolina
38 % of craft consumer spending goes toward purchasing art, while 62 % includes hotels, restaurants and local cultural activities
Craft schools have an annual economic impact of $11.8 million. Western North Carolina offers the greatest concentration of craft education in the country. A major reason artists live in this region is the educational opportunities offered through area workshops, classes and degree programs

Two internationally recognized crafts schools in WNC are responsible for an impact of more than $10 million on the local economy:

Penland School of Crafts annually enrolls more than 1,300 students from 48 states and overseas, and attracts over 14,000 visitors a year John C. Campbell School offers more than 800 classes in contemporary and traditional crafts

Colleges and universities
Haywood Community College Professional Craft Program is nationally recognized for providing technical and business skills in clay, fiber, metal and wood for more than 30 years. The college will break ground in 2010 for the new Creative Arts building that will increase the capacity for students interested in obtaining an AAS degree.
Mayland Community College, Blue Ridge Community College, Southwestern Community College and Western Piedmont Community College offer innovative craft programs.
UNC-Asheville, Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University all offer craft instruction within the BA, BFA or MFA programs. UNC-Asheville recently committed to building a Craft Campus and a degree program uniquely focused on contemporary craft and the environment.
The UNC Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design organized the writing, funding and publication of the first comprehensive textbook related to American Craft History (2009).
Several local organizations and schools offer classes in specific media, including: Earth Guild, Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, Asheville BookWorks, Mountain Metalsmiths School of Jewelry and Lapidary, Cloth Fiber Workshop and Asheville Woodworking School

Craft non-profit organizations have an annual economic impact of $4.4 million. Many organizations contribute to the economic revitalization of Western North Carolina.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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