LANSING - There are tens of thousands of crafters working in Michigan - making everything from quilts, to wooden fish decoys, to pottery - and a new study shows their work could help the state's sinking economy.
But a program in Calhoun County has been looking into how craftworkers and artists can improve the local economy for years.
Kathy Eftekhari is the executive director of the Arts & Industry Council, a Battle Creek-based nonprofit arts council. The AIC recently partnered with local economic development group, Battle Creek Unlimited, to improve the economy through fostering creative endeavors.
Eftekhari said the partnership gives local artists resources such as marketing and technical services, professional development programs and grants to more than 60 arts and cultural organizations and hundreds of Michigan artists. The council has been recognized on the state and national level for being the only program in Michigan to boast a strategic economic plan involving local artists.
"Our council is rare because we support traditional arts, but we also support small businesses and creative industries in the county," Eftekhari said. "There is a lot of potential for economic growth in the creative fields - that's everything from furniture building to a florist to the new chocolatier that opened in downtown Battle Creek."
Because most craftworkers fly under the radar of traditional economic indicators, it's difficult to gauge how much they contribute to the economy. But professionals earn an average income after expenses of $50,000 in Michigan, according to a study released Tuesday by the Michigan State University Museum and the state Department of History, Arts and Libraries.
From the state's 35 weaving guilds to an East Lansing-based store that is the nation's leading seller of a high-end Swedish sewing machine, craft production is big business. Study authors think there could be tens of thousands of crafters in Michigan.
But craft production could be even bigger, said Betty Boone, who oversees HAL's cultural economic-development strategy.
"It represents almost an invisible industry in the state," Boone told Booth News Service. "Michigan has not taken advantage of this opportunity."
The state hopes to promote more of the talents of Michiganians, a move especially critical as the state deals with a 7.1 percent unemployment rate and the loss of jobs at corporate giants such as General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Pfizer Inc. Nationally, the craft industry has a $13.8 billion economic impact, according to a 2001 study commissioned by the Craft Organization Development Association.
"The governor was pretty clear that every sector really needs to come to the table to support the economic growth of this state, and we took that call to action very seriously," Boone said, referring to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
"We want to expedite the development of the craft industry. It doesn't require a lot of infrastructure," Boone said.
In Calhoun County, artists and crafters already have the tools they need to get a head start, Eftekhari said.
The council's Web site, unitedartscouncil.org, offers free hosting for artist's personal pages, where they can share pictures of their work, pricing and contact information. The AIC/BCU partnership also offers artists and crafters free business workshops throughout the year and reduced-fee gallery and studio spaces in Battle Creek and Marshall.
"People think of art as something in a musuem," Eftekhari said. "But more than ever, we are seeing that creativity can be important to the economy."
Stephanie Antonian Rutherford can be reached at 966-0665 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Stephanie Antonian Rutherford, The Battle Creek Enquirer