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Funding cut jeopardizes popular Indiana Artisan program

October 17, 2009
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A state-run program aimed at boosting business for local artisans—ranging from painters to syrup makers—and turning them into a draw for tourists is in jeopardy because of dramatic funding cuts.

Despite overwhelming popularity among artisans, who claim the program has gained them attention from Chicago to Los Angeles, state officials halved the funding for the Indiana Artisan program this year and plan to do the same next year.

The funding cut has Eric Freeman, manager of the program, looking for ways to make up a $75,000 shortfall in next year’s $150,000 budget.

“What people need to realize about this program is, it’s not about developing [participants] as artisans; it’s about expanding their business and expanding Indiana tourism,” Freeman said. “This is solely an economic development initiative.”

The brainchild of Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, the program was funded with $350,000 from the State Office of Community and Rural Affairs in 2008. This year, funding was to have been cut to $250,000, but was later trimmed to $125,000. For 2010, the state has slashed funding from $150,000 to $75,000.

The Indiana Office of Tourism, State Department of Agriculture and Indiana Arts Commission also have helped develop and market the program.

“Our original intent was to be self-sustaining by 2011, but this has pushed us to be ahead of schedule,” Freeman said.

He is already working on funding ideas, including hosting a variety of artisan seminars for a fee and creating new sales channels for local artisans. The Indiana Artisans program would in turn get a commission on those sales.

Already, deals have been signed to sell Indiana Artisan wares through the Indiana State Museum, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and the Artisan Store at IUPUI’s University Place. Freeman is also negotiating to sell goods through Conner Prairie.

Indiana is among a handful of states to have such an artisan program. Kentucky is a leader in this type of initiative. It launched Kentucky Crafted 29 years ago.

The idea behind the Indiana Artisan program is to create a stamp of approval for the state’s best producers of art, crafts and value-added foods, Freeman said.

Only artisans who complete a detailed application and have their product reviewed by a jury panel are included in the program. To date, Freeman said, 680 artisans have applied and only 111 from 41 counties have been accepted. That’s a 17-percent acceptance rate.

“The Indiana Artisan label is becoming more and more well-known, not only in Indiana, but nationwide,” said Tim Burton, owner of Burton’s Maplewood Farm, outside Seymour.

Burton was selected as an Indiana Artisan last year for his Hoosier-made maple syrup. As a result, he said, he’s signed several deals with some of Chicago’s top restaurants, including Table 52, run by Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, Art Smith.

“This is exactly the sort of certification chefs are looking for,” Burton said.

Tia Agnew, co-owner of Elwood-based New Day Meadery, a honey-based wine-making company that was one of the first companies selected into the program, said the Indiana Artisan program is awakening people to “Indiana’s culinary excellence.”

And the program isn’t just for foodies.

“The effects of this program have rippled through the entire statewide arts community very quickly,” said Teri Barnett, co-owner of Broad Ripple Art & Design.”•

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