Maine Fiberarts Online Tour Map: Studios and Farms, 2009-2012

Final Report for CNE09-062

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2009: $24,378.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Christine Macchi
Maine Fiberarts
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Project Information

Summary:
Maine Fiberarts Online Tour Map & Fiber Arts Tour Weekend

In Spring of 2009, Maine Fiberarts published 60,000 copies of its 24x36" full color, two-sided printed Maine Fiberarts Tour Map: Studios and Farms. 134 studios, farms, processing mills, shops and suppliers are listed and maps will be distributed throughout 2012. 104 of the 134 sites were open for a three-day Fiber Arts Tour Weekend in August of 2009 and offered special farm tours, demonstrations, and workshops. An online version of the Tour Map was posted at www.mainefiberarts.org in June of 2009 and the map remains on view to this day. Fiber Arts Tour Weekend participants are also listed on the web on a separate page about Weekend activities which details their demonstrations, driving directions, contact info, and live links to their websites. SARE funding was put to work creating the online, searchable, interactive Tour Map at www.mainefiberarts.org; promoting the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend through radio ads, display ads, posters and postcards; distributing and promoting printed Tour Maps throughout 2009 and 2010 at Maine State Information Centers, Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland (Portland Jetport, Amtrak Bus Terminal, Commercial Street Info Center, and Deering Oaks Park), summer fairs and festivals, participating sites, etc.; and in offering technical assistance to farmers to help them prepare for studio visits. 42 farms, processing mills, and fiber-producing suppliers took part in the project and continue receiving inquiries and visits. 3511 documented visitors toured Maine during the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend in August 2009 and thousands more are using the map throughout the year. An estimated 35,000 copies have already been distributed, with the balance scheduled for distribution throughout 2010 and 2011.

In October of 2009, a survey was sent to all participants about the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend, with the following results reported: there was an 89-90% response rate to the survey; of the 134 sites listed on the map, 104 were open for the Weekend; visitors included collectors, craftspeople and artists, Maine residents, and out-of-state tourists; visitors came from 25 states, the Canadian provinces, Scotland, England and Japan; 68% of sites reported Tour Weekend sales of $300 or less, while 17% reported sales over $500; over 50% of respondents wanted a yearly Fiber Arts Tour Weekend.

As a result of such positive feedback, Maine Fiberarts has committed to making the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend an annual event—this year, August 6, 7, 8, 2010 or always the first full weekend in August.

See the full seven-minute survey presentation using this link:
http://www.mainefiberarts.org/surveypages/

Project Objectives:

Our goals included the following / with comments about results:

developing new markets for producers raising fibers in Maine and for the craftspeople who add value to their products / as a result of this project, we were invited to display maps and to greet tens of thousands of people at the Boston Globe and New York Times Travel Shows in Spring 2010, greatly expanding outreach. The project has also resulted in publicity, awareness, sales, peer exchanges, increased membership, and opportunities as we work to get Maine's fiber community literally "on the map"; spreading economic growth into Maine’s outlying and underserved rural communities by enhancing professional development and creating new jobs and opportunities / participants on our current map hail from all of Maine's sixteen counties. Visitors came from 26 US states including Maine to visit studios and farms throughout rural Maine. Bartlettyarns, Inc. of Harmony, Maine--central, rural Maine--had 1600 visitors on the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend proving the value of their continued marketing efforts. Hilltop Handspun in Lovell (Western Maine) had a good turnout and good sales during the Weekend due to the interesting dye demonstrations Lucy Rogers conducted. There are many more success stories offered by participants in the Survey Pages (see link above.)

networking producers through our Topsham Visitors Center, where we regularly answer inquiries about where to see an exhibit, find a weaving studio, take a workshop, or visit a farm / Hundreds of visitors have come to us throughout 2009 and 2010 inquiring about Tour Map sites to visit. One couple came from California having researched sites online first, then arrived in Maine, found a Tour Map at the first site visited, and continued touring farms that specialized in creating natural dyes. Their three-day visit was filled with informative stops;

putting into place the staff, infrastructure, publicity, connections, and mechanisms that will allow us to expand audience / because of SARE funding, Maine Fiberarts was able to hire Carol Jones to create our online Tour Map. She continues to work with us on a part-time basis, developing new ways to benefit farms and studios;

encouraging spin-off projects, such as packaged tours, collaborations with inns and b&b’s, visits to farms by school groups, and other innovative ideas / CraftCruises.com is using our Tour Map to plan a trip to alpaca farms and yarn shops in July 2010. A national agriculture and science group coming to Maine this Fall is using our online map to plan a fiber itinerary;

leveraging exposure through the Maine Office of Tourism website (one million visits per year); through Maine Department of Agriculture’s distribution; and through tourism trade shows / Maine Office of Tourism continues to develop opportunities for our map lauding it as an prime example of quality experiential tourism;

capitalizing upon publicity generated by local and national press / ads and articles about the project appeared in the Vermont, Maryland, and New Hampshire Sheep & Wool Festival Program Guides, Maine Sunday Telegram, MOFGA newspaper, national magazines and Maine state newspapers, etc. Yankee Magazine named Maine Fiberarts Center as an Editor's Choice Quality Destination for 2010 citing our place as a great spot to pick up a free copy of the Maine Fiberarts Tour Map. It is estimated this publicity through Yankee magazine and website will reach two million readers;

enhancing the image of Maine as a destination for quality art and farms and thereby serving as a model to nearby NH, CT, MA and VT / quote from Abbe Levin, Maine Office of Tourism, "Nationally, the work of Maine Fiberarts has become a model for other states and for their promotional efforts. This organization is continually working in innovative and dynamic ways, and as a result, they have become great stewards for Maine art, agriculture and farmers…";

increasing visits to farms in outlying rural regions in inland, down east, and northern Maine / visits are still taking place and will do so throughout 2012. Some people visit our Center with map in hand saying, "Last year we visited sites on your map in Western Maine; this year we're traveling up the Coast. What shall we see?";

fostering and promoting a collective spirit of cooperation among fiber enterprises statewide / recognition for Maine's fiber community has expanded greatly through the Tour Map and Weekend and awareness about fiber practitioners within our own community is expanding as sites visit sites.

Introduction:

Maine Fiberarts used SARE funding to create an online version of its Maine Fiberarts Tour Map posted at www.mainefiberarts.org in order to expand and amplify the outreach of our printed maps to a regional, national and international audience. Both the online and printed Tour Maps will be in use throughout 2012, with distribution of 60,000 printed maps ongoing throughout 2012. A special three-day Fiber Arts Tour Weekend hosted in August was so successful that the organization has committed to hosting the event annually, this year August 6, 7, 8, 2010 (always the first weekend in August). SARE funding helped us create and post the online Tour Map, publicize our Weekend, and distribute and promote Tour Maps so that Maine residents and visitors may more easily find Maine farms, fiber-producing suppliers and processing mills and the artists and craftspeople who add value to these raw materials. Our efforts to work with farmers to be better prepared for the touring public continue to this day, as we visit sites to photograph each and to ask participants about their marketing needs. To date, we have visited 104 of the 134 sites listed.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Carol Jones

Research

Materials and methods:

In October of 2008, we began soliciting farms from our database of 3400 resources. However, this was just as the economic downtown was most acute and it was a challenge getting sites to participate. SARE funding allowed us to hire a part-time office manager who was rigorous in phoning potential Tour Map sites and in winning them over. 134 sites were recruited to participate by January of 2009. We also created a special sidebar of 18 fiber-related associations. Throughout early Winter of 2009, design and production took place, and Tour Maps were printed in May. Distribution began in earnest through Maine State Information Centers (7 Centers statewide); through the Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland (6 locations throughout the City); and through agricultural, craft and tourism events. The online Tour Map was posted at www.mainefiberarts.org and promotion began throughout May-August for the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend. Postcards, posters, road signs and Tour Maps were then distributed to participating sites throughout Spring and Summer. The Fiber Arts Tour Weekend took place on one of the hottest weekends of the year. Still, Bartlettyarns of Harmony, Maine had 1600 visitors during the Weekend alone. Sites were surveyed in September, and a special presentation was created and posted online. See the result at: http://www.mainefiberarts.org/surveypages/

Research results and discussion:

All aspects of the project developed as planned, and we were able to meet all objectives and expenses. Milestones include:

Eighteen fiber-related educational organizations signed up to list their organizations on our Tour Map. As a result, Maine Fiberarts is able to forge better relations with the Maine Sheep Breeders Association, Maine Angora Producers, Maine Alpaca Association, Fiber Center at Fryeburg Fair, Common Ground Country Fair, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Wolfe's Neck Farm, and the Fiber Frolic. Through these channels, Maine Fiberarts is able to reach thousands more fiber enthusiasts, producers and craftspeople. We can also use our Tour Map to spread the word about good work other organizations are doing for this industry.

Maine Fiberarts Tour Map was cited as a national model for cultural tourism in Fiberarts magazine, and as the first effort in the U.S. to represent both art and farms in a fiber trail. New Mexico has now launched a similar effort with substantial State funding.

Maine Fiberarts Tour Maps were taken to a tourism trade show in Ireland by the Maine Office of Tourism who touted as one of the "best examples of cultural heritage tourism."

Maine Fiberarts was invited by the Maine Office of Tourism to bring Tour Maps and a display to the Boston Globe and New York Times Travel Shows, bringing Maine farms and studios to the attention of an international traveling public of tens of thousands of people.

The project received major press throughout Maine, New England and the U.S., as it was picked up by Associated Press and highlighted in an article entitled, "Putting Maine fiber arts on the map again," in the New England Crafts Connoisseur.

SARE funding brought our project major recognition and visibility throughout the Maine farm community and enabled us to leverage enough funds to pay all expenses and to retain staff throughout Spring of 2010.

A major exhibition of contemporary Maine fiber arts entitled "Intertwined," was shown at the Lord Hall Gallery, University of Maine, June-August 2009. The exhibition showed visitors tangible and very beautiful examples of the 23 media involved in fiber arts (spinning, weaving, felting, quilting, crochet, embroidery, paper, basketry, etc.) and brought greater awareness for Maine fiber studios and farms. The exhibition remained in place through our Fiber Arts Tour Weekend.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We designed, printed and distributed 2000 postcards; 60,000 two-sided, full color, 24x36" Tour Maps; descriptive material, photos, web links and directions for each farm on our website; 400 14x22" color posters; and 2- by 3-foot weather-resistant road signs erected on metal stands to publicize the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend. Press releases were sent to some 600 local, regional, and national press contacts resulting in articles in Maine Sunday Telegram; Spin-Off Magazine; New Hampshire, Maryland, and Vermont Sheep and Wool Program Guides; New England Crafts Connoisseur (7 state delivery throughout New England); The Producer (newsletter of the Maine Sheep Breeders Association); Midcoast Life, Houlton Times, and many others.

Participants distributed maps at summer fairs and festivals throughout New England from May through October of 2009, including: Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival, Common Ground Country Fair, Fiber Frolic, Fryeburg Fair, New Hampshire Sheep and Wool, Maryland Sheep and Wool, Directions Craft Shows and numerous others. Tens of thousands of people attend these fairs.

Throughout the Spring of 2009, we mailed boxes of Tour Maps to art and agricultural centers throughout the Northeast. We joined the Maine Tourism Association to have maps placed at seven Maine State Information Centers statewide. We joined the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland to have maps disseminated through 4 centers throughout Portland. Maps were placed at select Chambers of Commerce and in towns at bookstores, coffeehouses, shops, and gathering places. International yarn retailer Halcyon Yarn of Bath, Maine stored 20,000 copies of the map for us which provides them with a steady supply for their visitors. The Maine Department of Agriculture distributed maps for us through their display vehicle that attends 28 agricultural events throughout New England. Participants created visual graphics on their websites to link to our Tour Map page online. The Maine Office of Tourism posted information at their website, www.visitmaine.com, which receives about one million hits per year. And many, many people throughout our State helped get the word out about this project.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Beyond the benefits already cited for Tour Map participants in our Summary, we find a major outcome of this project is the realization that it is an ongoing effort. We must educate our State agencies about the power and the value of bringing markets directly to the studios and farms where work is created. We must work with the farmers to ensure that they are creating press releases, web materials, posters and publicity on their own to draw visitors to them. And we need to continually educate the public about the willingness of artists, craftspeople and producers to have them visit their spaces directly.

As a result, Maine Fiberarts is organizing Field Trips to cites listed on our Tour Map. In April, we visited Bartlettyarns, Inc. of Harmony, a 200-year old spinnery who had 1600 visitors on the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend in 2009. Owners Susan and Lindsey Rice gave a talk to the public about how they made such a success. A Field Trip in June will visit a knitter's retreat camp listed on our map. Trips are planned during the Summer to a cashmere farm, a heritage breed preservation farm, and to a wind-powered spinnery.

We also find that other groups are using our online and printed Tour Maps to plan trips of their own. A national science and agriculture group and a cruise ship have both contacted us about fiber excursions in Maine this year. More and more people are coming to our Center/Gallery in Midcoast Maine, asking whether they can be directed to studios and farms. School groups are beginning to consider field trips to fiber-producing farms, to learn about processes directly and first-hand. Bus tour operators have been inquiring with specific interests—learning about the quilters, the fiber-to-yarn spinners, etc.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

In October of 2009, a survey was sent to all participants about the Fiber Arts Tour Weekend, with the following results reported: there was an 89-90% response rate to the survey; of the 134 sites listed on the map, 104 were open for the Weekend; visitors included collectors, craftspeople and artists, Maine residents, and out-of-state tourists; visitors came from 25 states, the Canadian provinces, Scotland, England and Japan; 68% of sites reported Tour Weekend sales of $300 or less, while 17% reported sales over $500; over 50% of respondents wanted a yearly Fiber Arts Tour Weekend.

Studies by the Maine Office of Tourism show that visitors to Maine spend an average of $300 per person per day in food, lodging and travel-related expenses. We documented 3511 reported visitors touring sites during our 2009 Fiber Arts Tour Weekend. 3511 @ $300/person/day results in $3,159,900 in revenue from the Weekend alone.

Thousands more are using the map all year long. At least 35,000 copies of the map have already been distributed, with the balance scheduled for distribution throughout 2010 and 2011. Assuming 25% of people picking up our Tour Map are visiting sites (since the map has a focused interest), would mean an additional $2,625,000 generated each year.

Beyond direct and ancillary sales, we have not determined a way as yet to capture the economic impact created by the opportunities, repeat visits, visibility and good will created by the Tour Map and Weekend. But recognition for the fiber arts community in Maine--its fiber-producing farms, manufacturers, learning centers, processing mills, artists and craftspeople, supply shops, festivals and publications--is growing exponentially and this project has greatly expanded awareness.

Future Recommendations

Preparing farmers and craftspeople for visitors to their sites is a relatively new endeavor, and necessitates much more work than we have started here. Producers need help marketing their wares and specifically, how to create web materials, press releases, attractive printed flyers, and promotional tools. They need help readying their spaces for the public and learning how to promote the availability of their farms and goods. Maine Fiberarts is making a commitment to continue visiting farms and studios to speak with participants, to learn about their marketing needs, and to continue our work driving an interested public directly to the places where good food, fiber and handcrafts are created. Thank you very much, Northeast SARE, for partnering with Maine Fiberarts to help get Maine's fiber community "on the map."

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.