Crowdfunding Treasure

Tyson, a Black Belt Treasures student, shows off pottery he threw with Selma artist Jo Taylor.

Tyson, a Black Belt Treasures student, shows off pottery he threw with Selma artist Jo Taylor.

One creative crowdfunding economic development strategy from Alabama's Black Belt

In the south central Alabama community of Camden, 120 miles north of the Gulf Coast, Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center is on a mission to preserve the region’s unique arts and crafts heritage. Nearly 14,000 tourists flock annually to its gallery, assembled in an old auto dealership, to experience some of the region’s great cultural contributions. Quilts, some fashioned by world-famous quilters in nearby Gee’s Bend, are there. And so is pottery, crafted by generations of potters who have dug their clay from rich Black Belt earth that gave the region its name.

Like so many non-profits in low-income communities, Black Belt Treasures finds itself moving beyond its original mission — in this case as an arts education organization — to take on the role of community and economic developer. That’s because, if the arts of the area are to survive, the region’s people must be able to earn a living making and selling it.

That’s why WealthWorks is such a great match for Black Belt Treasures. Black Belt Treasures embraces WealthWorks because it is an approach to development that allows the organization to pursue the preservation and promotion of arts-and-crafts skills and culture, while also building greater wealth for the artists and the region. Black Belt Treasure’s economic development strategy is bringing together partners within the region to craft a WealthWorks value chain of connections and investments that provide more of the products and experiences that tourists visiting the Black Belt region want. At the same time, this strategy is specifically being designed to improve the challenged livelihoods of local artisans, craft producers and related tourism businesses.

One big hurdle local partners identified when Black Belt Treasures began coordinating value chain construction was the need for studio space. They also lacked a venue where visitors could encounter artists, participate in their creative process, and perhaps buy the artwork. Black Belt Treasures, motivated by the WealthWorks approach, thought carefully about how to address these gaps in a way that would build the greatest regional wealth.

And the WealthWorks Community, it turns out, had help to offer. Black Belt Treasures signed up to participate in an action-learning webinar series on crowdfunding, designed by the Croatan Institute for the WealthWorks Community. As a result, Black Belt Treasures has created a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the renovation of the auto bodyshop into the Black Belt ArtHouse, a studio space for learning, sharing and selling the region's arts and crafts. The equipment they will buy for the renovated facility can also be assembled into a mobile studio, which will provide the value chain a flexible method to capture traditions and build skills across 19 counties.

Alabama's Black Belt is known for its clay resources and unique folk art pottery styles including the face jug.

Alabama's Black Belt is known for its clay resources and unique folk art pottery styles including the face jug.

And that crowdfunding campaign is live now!

Black Belt Treasures aims to raise $10,000 in this campaign before October 17. They are targeting friends and supporters in the region, and art collectors and potential visitors elsewhere, to join the crowd that will fund the campaign. Indeed, the crowdfunding campaign will help the value chain partners build visibility and a new set of relationships with people outside the region who are interested in the area’s crafts — and who may, someday, show up as Camden tourists to buy a piece of pottery made in a studio they helped build, while spending more in local lodging and food establishments.

  • Want to learn more about Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center’s crowdfunding campaign and see how you can contribute and/or get your own piece of Black Belt pottery? Their crowdfunding campaign is live. Take a look!
  • Want to explore crowdfunding as a tool to support economic development value chains? Download this guide, visit this site or contact Christi Electris of the Croatan Institute.
  • Learn more about Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center and their experiential tourism value chain in Alabama.
  • Check out this crowdfunding project by Rural Community Assistance Corporation, another WealthWorks partner. They are raising funds to provide safe drinking water to a rural community in California.

Crowdfunding is just one funding strategy creative value chains can use to help address gaps or pursue opportunities. In the coming months, we encourage you to explore the work of emerging and established value chains to build better economic livelihoods for their residents. Find this and other stories at Sign up for future newsletters. Download the WealthWorks modules to get an introductory look at the practice.