Spotlight on Kentucky Crafted: The Market
October 29, 2013
In 1986 as an independent clothing designer new to the world of retail, I was looking for ways to market my one-of-a-kind designs. Noticing an ad for a craft show in Lexington, I attended not knowing what to expect. I was definitely not a stranger to craft shows but this was a different model focused more on professionally marketing handcrafted work. I struck up conversations with other artists to find out how to become part of this group. Fast forward a few months and I was an adjudicated member of the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program. I participated in the shows and learned how to market my designs, set up wholesale accounts, and operate as a small business owner. This education and exposure to markets enabled me to successfully create and market my work alongside many other Kentucky artists.
The development of the Craft Marketing Program was prompted in 1981 as a result of the enthusiastic promotion of Kentucky craft by then-Kentucky First Lady Phyllis George Brown. The first female sportscaster on national TV and a former Miss America, Brown used her contacts to actively promote Kentucky artisans by connecting with Bloomingdale’s president Marvin Traub. This resulted in Kentucky craft being carried in the New York store, followed by promotions in Neiman Marcus and Marshall Fields. An American promotion at Takashimaya, Japan’s leading department store chain featuring Kentucky craft, created an opportunity for international sales for Kentucky artists. Strong promotion of the program in the early days resulted in an exhibit entitled Kentucky Crafts 1800-1987 at the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum. A “Kentucky Crafted” advertising campaign started in 1990.
The Craft Marketing program held its first wholesale market for Kentucky craft in 1982, starting a 32-year history for the state-sponsored public and trade show promoting Kentucky handmade products. Strong leadership and guidelines at the onset led to the long-standing success of the program. An adjudication process by independent jurors was used to establish quality standards and training in business areas such as marketing, pricing, and booth design.
Almost 30 years later, my professional career has taken a different path just as the original Craft Marketing Program has. Today, I’m executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency that presents Kentucky Crafted: The Market. The annual wholesale/retail art marketplace now features Kentucky art of all mediums. The name change to Kentucky Crafted reflects the work represented at the market—all handmade in Kentucky by skilled artists.
From its beginning as a trade show to introduce artists to business opportunities, the event has now become a celebration of Kentucky art. Craft, two-dimensional visual art, books, music, and specialty artisanal Kentucky foods are all available at the market. A live performance stage on Saturday and Sunday features musicians from the Kentucky Arts Council’s adjudicated Performing Arts Directory, and hands-on art activities are available to the public. The Architectural Artist Program was developed four years ago, and a special display area for artists who create and incorporate unique handcrafted fixtures into homes and businesses has resulted in several major commissions by corporations as well as homeowners.
When the Craft Marketing Program was started in the 1980s, national decorating trends focused heavily on country design—a natural for Kentucky’s folk and traditional crafts like baskets, quilts, weaving, and woodworking. Today, artisans who create these products are a crucial link to the Commonwealth’s cultural traditions and history. The recognition and continuation of these skills is vital. But the arts in Kentucky include much more. Now, contemporary art in all mediums is showcased at Kentucky Crafted: The Market alongside traditional art. The range of work is extensive, but the common thread is quality. We’re proud to showcase so many talented artists, many of whom have received multiple awards for their work.
Kentucky Crafted: The Market showcases Kentucky art, but its primary purpose continues to be creating business opportunities for Kentucky artisan businesses. The March date of the show enables artists to introduce new products to buyers and gain important consumer input before they begin the season’s shows and events. Retail venues and the general public alike are able to view the largest selection of Kentucky artwork in one place. Buyers for retail establishments place orders directly with the artists and many of the artisan businesses write orders for the entire year. The Market facilitates valuable ongoing relationships between artists and retailers.
Kentucky Crafted: The Market has made a significant impact on the state’s economy and artisan businesses over the last 31 years. A study released this month revealed that the economic impact of the 2013 market surpassed $2 million. Based on survey data and sales figures obtained from market exhibitors and visitors and calculated through in-house models, the overall estimated impact is $2,057,063. Gross receipts for both retail and wholesale sales occurring at the market, or afterwards as a direct result of the market, by the 202 artisan businesses participating, totaled $1,049,548. The economic impact of local, regional, and out-of-state visitor spending on non-art and craft items totaled $1,007,515. According to Jim Browder, executive director of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, the market has been a boon to downtown Lexington where the event is held. “It’s got a great impact on the city and creates activity for restaurants,” Browder said.
Kentucky is one of only a few states in the nation to sponsor a show of this kind for its artist businesses. Kentucky Crafted: The Market was nationally recognized by award winning AmericanStyle Magazine as the No. 1 event in the category of top 10 fairs and festivals in the United States, and the Southeast Tourism Society has named it a Top 20 Event for 15 years. The Kentucky Arts Council is proud to continue to present Kentucky Crafted: The Market to provide crucial business opportunities for Kentucky artists and to showcase the best of Kentucky arts.