Giving tourists real heritage
Na Mea Hawai'i opens on MauiBy Cynthia Oi
FEW would see a land of opportunity in an abandoned garbage dump, but Becky Anderson and the people of HandMade in America do.
They are building "business incubators" on a landfill in Western North Carolina, a place where potters and glassblowers can make their products, using methane generated by decomposing garbage to provide free fuel for kilns and furnaces.
Such innovative thinking is what has brought success to HandMade in America, a 6-year-old nonprofit organization that has developed sustainable economies where none had existed.
HandMade in America spotlights craft people and the traditional and contemporary crafts of the Appalachian region, and provides visitors with a cultural experience to go along with them.
Anderson will be in Hawaii for a conference April 29, sponsored by the Hawai'i Community Services Council and the State of Hawai'i Association of Community Associations. She will share HandMade in America's ideas for doing similar things here.
Although an ocean and a continent apart, Anderson contends geography shapes the people in her native North Carolina in the same way it does people in Hawaii.
What: "Get Cooking! Second Helping," community building conference
When: 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. April 29; registration deadline, April 19
Where: Kapiolani Community College
Call: Information and registration: 529-0466 or at http://www.hcsc-hawaii.org/shakacon.htm
"We are mountain people, and mountain people and island people are very much alike," she said in an interview from her office in Asheville.
"Here in the mountains -- lack of a road system, lack of airports -- we have to be self-reliant.
"We are tied to these mountains, you are tied to the island surrounded by the ocean, and we often both have to be totally indigenous in everything we do," Anderson said.
There are other similarities.
"You have a strong craft tradition and a strong music tradition in Hawaii, a strong storyteller tradition, just like in our region," said Anderson, who visited the islands last year to work with the Waianae Coast Coalition.
HandMade in America's ideas and approaches to developing culturally sensitive tourist markets are easily adaptable in Hawaii, she said.
One of the group's most successful enterprises so far are the Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina, a series of seven trails that lead visitors to historical shops, artists, inns, restaurants, galleries and historical sites, focusing on the region's creative heritage.
The project was community driven, Anderson said.
"We went to every town in the region to ask them where they thought visitors ought to go to see their craft heritage," she said.
"We asked them to define the sacred places in their community -- which is extraordinarily important in Hawaii -- places where they did not want visitors because communities have the right to have places to themselves and visitors have a right to feel wanted."
"We put together a whole trail system with about 500 sites and stops based on what our citizens designed, not an outside developer, not a Walt Disney, not a hotel developer, but on the communities themselves."
This "heritage tourism" is more fulfilling for a visitor, she said. A person can buy a beautiful basket and also learn how its utilitarian style was developed over time, how its materials were processed for weaving and about the crafter who made it.
"That's what people are interested in anyway," she said, "and it's paid off for us.
In four years, profits for craft people have increased 33 percent and 26 percent for shops and galleries, Anderson said. Unaffiliated businesses along the trails, such as bed-and-breakfast operations and restaurants, also have gained.
Hawaii is an ideal place for such ventures; her own visit last year verifies that, she said.
"People were so generous with their culture; the community sense is so strong in Hawaii."
"Heritage tourism venues, where people can come to learn something, heightens the visitor experiences," she said.
"The superficial tourism thing isn't want people want. Who wants the Taco Bell, the Burger King tour of Hawaii. People want the real thing."
Na Mea Hawai'i Store opens its doors Friday on the Baldwin Home grounds in Lahaina.
Na Mea Hawai'i opens on Maui
The store will sell locally made "things Hawaiian," much like its sister operations, Native Books & Beautiful Things in Honolulu, said owner Maile Meyer.
Fashions by Nake'u Awai, feather creations by Mary Lou Kekuewa and Paulette Kahalepuna, drawings by Patrick Ching, shell and seed lei by Loto Karnuth, instruments and games by Kamaki and Phyllis Dudoit and food products by Taro Basket are among the products the store will carry.
Music, demonstrations, story telling and games through the weekend celebrate the opening.
Store hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Call (808) 661-5707.
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