The Virginia Tech Center for Economic and Community Engagement has created a best practices guide for arts and craft centers to help them adapt to changing market and industry conditions.

Arts and craft centers fall within the arts schools industry and can be either residential or non-residential. The centers offer a variety of classes, focusing on subjects including, but not limited to: painting, drawing, blacksmithing, jewelry-making, cooking, pottery, and textiles. Residential centers tend to offer longer courses that can last for multiple weeks while non-residential centers typically offer shorter-term courses or classes on a weekly basis.

The Center for Economic and Community Engagement wished to explore the arts and crafts industry as communities across the country have increasingly become aware of how arts and cultural amenities contribute to overall quality of life. Many communities have shown interest in growing efforts to bring arts and cultural programming to residents through economic and community development.

CECE has engaged in other arts and culture related work with communities, particularly with the performing arts. Past work includes an economic impact analysis for the Harvester Performance Center, located in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and an economic impact analysis for the Crooked Road’s Mountains of Music Homecoming event. Such projects touched on the positive financial impact for the communities, as well as the ability of the arts to foster pride in one’s cultural heritage. Visual and performing arts not only act as economic drivers in communities but also contribute to community vibrancy and establish a sense of place.

To develop the best practices guide, center staff interviewed ten arts and craft centers in the eastern United States, both residential and non-residential. Interviews focused on the arts and craft centers’ visitors; instructors and courses; accommodation; revenue and expenses; and opportunities and challenges.

“I am grateful for the time each center committed to speaking with us,” said Anna Nagorniuk, project specialist for the Center for Economic and Community Engagement. “It’s exciting to see the passion for arts and equitable access to creative education and expression in its many forms. From a community and economic development standpoint, I think arts and culture are valuable assets to be celebrated as a part of a diverse local economy and for overall quality of life. Now, we have gained valuable knowledge about the opportunities, challenges, and impacts of this niche industry.”

Staff also studied the demand for arts and craft programming and lodging, focusing on demographic and income trends and the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in arts participation and industry revenue.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data relating to the arts and crafts industry. The industry is making strides to appeal to a younger and more diverse customer base. It’s fascinating to see how each of the center’s efforts aim to broaden the pool of instructors and students on their campuses,” said Jason Schwartz, a graduate research assistant for the center.

“This industry, along with many other ‘nonessential and leisure’ sectors, was impacted negatively by the pandemic,” said Nagorniuk. “As the creative economy begins to recover, we hope that our findings and recommendations will help actors in the arts and craft industry to refine their recovery strategies and plan more effectively. We hope the best practices can inform centers and schools as they move forward, continue to grow access to the arts, and sustain their contributions to their communities and beyond.”

In 2020 alone, revenue for the arts schools industry fell nearly 12 %. However, as the pandemic subsides, the arts schools industry is expected to benefit as consumers express pent-up demand for goods and services that were restricted during the pandemic, including in-person art classes.

Best practices covered in the guide include being flexible in the time of COVID; collaborating locally and strategically; promoting professional development opportunities; focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and being intentional in planning.

Click here to read the arts and crafts center best practices guide.