When a number of people are seized by the power of an idea, it
creates a series of pivotal incidents which change history. If the idea
is creative and leads to freedom and prosperity, it can become an
If you would like to give yourself a lift, try looking back at those unexpected moments in time when an idea transformed your life and gave it new meaning. I ran into something this year that will alter the economy of this region and will provide opportunities for new businesses. It is ‘Round the Mountain: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Network.
Thirteen years ago, Becky Anderson conceived the idea that nurturing Western North Carolina’s craft culture would be a more viable economic strategy than trying to entice outside industry to build plants in the region. She created Handmade in America to accomplish that goal and it is transforming the region.
Two years ago, Todd Christensen of Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development, and Joe Wilson, Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, came up with the idea of creating an Artisan Network for Southwest Virginia, following the lines of The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, and building on the experience of Handmade in Amarica.
In in June of this year , Gretchen and I attended a Creating A New Economy Conference in Abingdon at the invitation of Woody Crenshaw. The conference was hosted by The Crooked Road and ‘Round the Mountain.
It was immediately evident to us that 240 artisans, musicians, government leaders and tourism executives were hot on the trail of a grand dream for revitalizing Southwest Virginia through use of its greatest assets.
I was struck by the passion exhibited by Governor Kaine, Congressman Boucher and various government agency speakers for the dream of sustainable economic development for this region of Virginia. I was also impressed with the dedication exhibited by Woody Crenshaw, Todd Christensen, Joe Wilson and the Board of ‘Round the Mountain. The dream of creating sustainable economic development by utilizing the cultural assets of this region really took hold of my imagination.
That dream is growing stronger every day. Recently, we attended a two-day meeting at Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia where more than 40 people grappled with the details and challenges of managing the forward momentum of ‘Round the Mountain, while creating policies and expanding the team which is going to achieve the targets which lie immediately ahead.
RTM has an enormous task of establishing a network of driving trails throughout the region to connect artisan studios, craft venues, agricultural tourism related venues and other creative points of interest with the general public.
These trails will be developed in cooperation with local communities and county governments and will be promoted by RTM to bring visitors into the region to experience the culture and traditions of Southwest Virginia.
The dream embraces the development of an artisan registry covering 19 counties in Southwest Virginia, working with the SW Virginia Artisan Center in Abingdon, VA. and developing an interactive website and much, much more. RTM has been flying slightly below the radar until this year, but it should become visible to everyone in Virginia in the very near future.
Invitations to join RTM have recently been sent out to artisans and registrations are begining to come in. In a relatively short time, the ‘Round the Mountain network will consist of thousands of individuals, instead of hundreds, and the economic effects will begin to permeate all of Southwest Virginia.
This is a dream where everyone has a part to play and benefits accrue to the participants in proportion to their contribution. It is a dream worth investigating.