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Groups assists artisans

By Staff | Aug 13, 2010

CHARLES TOWN – In addition to traditional arts and crafts classes, to study painting or woodworking, Craftworks at Cool Spring focuses on the “artist as entrepreneur,” explained David Lillard, director of the fledgling facility on the banks of Bullskin Run in southern Jefferson County.

“Good artists are not necessarily good business people,” he said Wednesday. “In September, we’re starting a program called Advancing Artists, which will offer classes and workshops focusing on the business of art.”

The classes and workshops will teach artists about e-commerce and how to take photos of their work for websites, for example, as well as how to apply for grants and marketing, Lillard said.

Lillard knows of what he speaks. He has a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Emerson University and that program emphasized making a living, he said.

A program to help working artists to be good business people is new to the area, he said, but it has been well received.

“We offered two writing classes for business,” Lillard said. “We had a marketing professional teach how to write press releases and how to develop brochures.”

Classes are held at Craftworks’ center in Shepherdstown – Craftworks In Town – which includes a gallery, he said.

Artists and artisans, especially those who want to sell their work on the retail market, are small business people, and they have to be able to manage a business, Lillard said, which is a whole different set of skills than producing arts and crafts. Craftworks wants to help artists succeed by improving their business acumen, he said.

As important as Advancing Artists is to Craftworks’ mission, it is only one of a sprawling array of programs offered by the two-year-old nonprofit organization.

Improving the economic atmosphere for the business of arts also is one of Craftworks’ missions, Lillard said.

“We have structural problems in Jefferson County with zoning – it’s very hard to open a business from your home,” he said.

Lillard pointed out that it is difficult to open a retail craft shop in one’s home, costing several thousands of dollars to jump through all the hoops and over all the hurdles erected by local regulations.

“Economic development is very outdated here,” he said. “If you want a rural economy, you have to have rural businesses. One of the things that would improve the economy would be to take down the barriers to rural enterprises.”

Lillard hopes Craftworks adds to the economic engine of Jefferson County in the very near future with its 2,000-square-foot studio. He hopes to break ground for the structure soon.

“The studio is part of our long-term vision,” he said. “It will be our mainstay.”

Resembling a traditional barn, the lower level will house “dirty” studios where the work of artists and artisans will be carried out, he said. The upper level will be for “clean” studios for music or writing classes, a public area and gallery, he said.

Future programs will feature a wide range of educational opportunities in addition to arts and crafts classes, such as market farming and market gardening; partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to teach water-based environmental programs for children; and environmentally sustainable architecture and construction.

Future development plans would include overnight accommodations for 20 to 30, more educational facilities and more studio space.

Craftworks now is located on 12 acres, and its headquarters is in an old farmhouse called Mrs. Thornton’s Cottage at 1673 Lloyd Road, Charles Town. The land and cottage were donated by Linda Case, who owns the 81-acre Cool Spring farm, which someday will be turned over to Craftworks for use as a retreat and nature preserve.

Go to www.wvcraftworks.org, e-mail info@wvcraftworks.org or call 304-728-6233 for more information.

“We want to connect people to the community and the environment,” Lillard said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel – we want to invent the place.”