A! Magazine for the Arts

The Tanasi Arts & Heritage Center will be nestled in the foothills at the Cherokee National Forest near Unicoi, Tenn. Drawing by Reedy & Sykes Architecture and Design of Elizabethton, Tenn.

The Tanasi Arts & Heritage Center will be nestled in the foothills at the Cherokee National Forest near Unicoi, Tenn. Drawing by Reedy & Sykes Architecture and Design of Elizabethton, Tenn.

Cultural Gateways

October 27, 2010

Both Heartwood and Tanasi will showcase the cultural and natural heritage of the region and contribute to a new, sustainable "creative economy." They will serve as catalysts for community development, fostering partnerships for education, marketing, and entrepreneurial activities related to craft, while promoting an appreciation for the rich culture of the area.

Arts and crafts from throughout the region will be juried and purchased outright, providing more income for local artists than selling their work at fairs and art galleries. Extra income for artists injects more money into the region - a positive economic impact.

"This is really about economic development," said Todd Christensen, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission, which was formed in 2008 to oversee the Heartwood project. "The things we're really focused on are quality of life, sense of place, and community development."

Christensen said the broader initiative includes three objectives: attract high-tech business development and high-end entrepreneurs through good quality of life; promote Southwest Virginia as a place to live; and attract visitors.

At a press conference earlier this year, State Sen. William Wampler (R-Bristol) said, "The physical hub is in Abingdon. The virtual spokes are what we think are important."

Christensen explained, "Visitors to Heartwood's website are going to fall in love with Southwest Virginia and if they're lucky, they'll come and visit. If they're really lucky, they'll move here and bring their businesses with them, or move here and start a business, or come and buy a house."

He continued, "The "creative economy' is a significant force. In 2008, The Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail, had a $23 million economic impact. In Floyd County alone, there are 47 documented jobs tied to The Crooked Road."


• In three years, Heartwood is expected to attract more than 270,000 visitors, generate $2.2 million in revenue, and result in a total economic impact in excess of $28 million to the region.

Just as Heartwood is the physical symbol of the region's "creative economy," the website will serve as a virtual gateway. The visually dynamic "electronic destination" will feature interactive trip planning services, providing visitors with information on where to stay, where to dine, and where to visit. The website will feature vivid and captivating video profiles with stories of the people, places, and activities that make Southwest Virginia a unique and inviting destination to discover.

Christensen said Heartwood "isn't Tamarack," the West Virginia economic development project featuring food, events and local artisans' works. "That is mainly a retail outlet, not tied to the region," at least not in the way Christensen envisions. "Our emphasis is on being a "gateway' to the region, as opposed to being the center of the region."

Abingdon isn't meant to be a destination, either. Instead, the vision is for Heartwood to encourage people to explore the region, its life and art, firsthand. "As people come though the door, we're going to push them back out the door," he said. "We want to get them in Heartwood long enough to spend money on crafts and music, but the emphasis is on visitors gravitating to artisan centers and studios in the surrounding area, in addition to Abingdon attractions."

He continued, "People want to visit a culture and a region, so we are emphasizing and promoting cities and towns. Each town in the region has or is going through a revitalization to become a cultural center. Though not every county or town has a Carter Fold or a Barter Theatre, each does have a voice in telling the story of Southwest Virginia."

To that end, Christensen said the Town of Abingdon is developing an arts incubator to help sites like The Arts Depot, William King Museum and Holston Mountain Artisans, where people can see working artists and youth can apprentice or take classes with artists, similar to Chestnut Creek School of the Arts in Galax, Va. (Christensen was also involved with that project).


• According to an economic impact study conducted by students at East Tennessee State University, Tanasi "could share in annual attendance at cultural events in East Tennessee of between 68,000 and 126,000, as well as sharing in government revenues." In addition, the study states that 117-218 local jobs could be added or expanded within the local economy.


McPherson said Tanasi is being modeled, in part, after Tamarack in Beckley, W.Va. and the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. "It's all about the artists," she says. "We will go ahead and buy art outright from local artists, so they don't have to pack up their stuff and travel throughout the Southeast to sell their work. A major difference between Tanasi and the models it has chosen for inspiration is that Tanasi will not only be a retail center, but an education and learning center as well, with a mission to preserve mountain arts and crafts tradition."

However, she admitted, "From models we've seen, an artisan center by itself is not likely to be economically sustainable. Tanasi probably won't be able to run purely on its own. One must remember, though, that in addition to artists, performers, instructors and direct employees of the facility itself, such a center creates an entire network of peripheral jobs throughout the community. When you consider how many existing businesses Tanasi will support, how many people will be needed to produce the food we sell, how many landscapers and maintenance contractors will be needed to take care of the property, and the number of people who will plan and market Tanasi - the peripheral jobs created and integrated into the economics of our area are hard to quantify. Tamarack has tried to figure that out, and the West Virginia state government recognizes the facility's part in the economic health of their community."

Heartwood Collaborations

Christensen said, "This whole project is one collaboration after another, and we're contracting to operate all the elements. There's not a venue like this anywhere."

• Christensen heads up the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission. One of the Commission members is Betsy White, former executive director of William King Museum. White is chair of the Commission's Cultural Assets Committee and on the board of "Round the Mountain. She said, "I am "on board' in believing that the collaboration of Heartwood, "Round the Mountain and The Crooked Road will energize non-profits and individual artists and enable Southwest Virginia to realize its full potential as a good place to visit and live."

Guest Services International will manage Heartwood's retail sales, as well as a restaurant and a coffee/wine bar featuring Southwest Virginia wines. Christensen said, "Guest Services has a great deal of experience running venues that sell crafts and foods." Since 1917, Guest Services has provided customized hospitality management solutions for America's best-known resorts and institutions. One team member now operating retail sales at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. is helping Heartwood develop policies and plans for obtaining and marketing crafts.

• Offices for "Round the Mountain: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Network will be housed at Heartwood. According to Christensen, "Round the Mountain was created to develop crafts to sell at Heartwood. He said, "They have already had jurying sessions and have purchased the initial stock of crafts (more than $100,000 worth). Once products start selling, demand will drive what we buy in the future."

• The Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail
is also part of Heartwood. The Crooked Road will create and establish a weekly performance series at Heartwood featuring young musicians performing traditional music. The concerts will encourage interaction among performers and enable young musicians to gain experience playing in front of a live audience. The Crooked Road will also initiate an annual traditional music festival at Heartwood, which will include master classes for students and performances by traditional bluegrass musicians.

People Inc., a nonprofit organization headquartered in Abingdon, will own and maintain the building.