Area artists write down names for Loudoun’s new Artisan Trail. Despite the county’s many changes, artisans say community still best defines Loudoun.
A Lovettsville resident since 1969, Alice Power is among a dwindling number of locals who have seen Loudoun County transform from a sparsely-populated, agrarian community to one that is radically different — especially in the east.
A longtime painter, director and volunteer, Power has a simple answer for why she stayed put while everything around her began to change.
“If I have had one word for why I live in Loudoun County,” Power said “it’s ‘community’.”
Its that spirit of community that Power and a growing number of fellow artists are hoping to capture with the county’s Artisan Trail.
The Artisans Center of Virginia is a statewide initiative that encourages visitors to discover artist studios, local farms, restaurants, hotels, boutiques and other artisanal and agritourism-related businesses. It has worked with 30 different Virginia localities to create Artisan Trails, which allow these groups to partner as communities and promote themselves. In Loudoun, more than 60 artisan-related groups and individuals have spent months formulating their own organization, and plan to launch the Commonwealth’s 31st Trail in September.
“It’s a way for all of us to come together and support each other,” said Loudoun County Artisan Trail Manager Lisa Strout. “This isn’t just for visitors. This is for residents, and for each other.”
As Loudoun continues to grow, artisan groups have worked to preserve and promote a resilient and growing subset of agricultural and artistic industries. Loudoun has been known for decades as a wine destination, and in the past five years it has fostered 21 new local breweries, the most of any jurisdiction in Virginia. The county is also home to nearly 70 arts organizations, more than 60 arts businesses and hundreds of working artists.
“There’s this revival going on when the community tells the story of what is an artisan trail,” said Artisans Center of Virginia Director Sherri Smith. “You hear the word ‘art’ in artisan. Don’t get hung up on that. This truly is about community. This is the story of where your meaning and making comes together in a valued place for you.”
According to Richmond-based Chmura Economics and Analytics, the artisan industry in Virginia generated a $572.2 million economic impact in 2014, provided $15.6 million in state tax revenue and supported nearly 12,000 full-time jobs. Artisan visitors spent more than $250 million, with the average visitor spending $260 per person, per trip.
To enhance Loudoun’s artisan economy, Strout along with Visit Loudoun CEO Beth Erickson and Leesburg Economic Development Director Martha Edwards reached out to Virginia Artisan Centers, looking to capitalize on successes the organization had seen across the Commonwealth. Along with county Agricultural Development Officer Kellie Hinke, they started finalizing a leadership team and potential partner businesses. A year later, the group has secured partnerships with more than 60 artisans and businesses , with more expected to join.
“Everybody needs help.” said Strout, who is the manager of Tryst Gallery in Leesburg. “Any of us who have small enterprises don’t have advertising budgets, so this is a very inexpensive way for increased visibility.”
Local municipalities helped with financing the project and members also pay a fee. The group is also seeking sponsorship, which will help with further promotional efforts.
Participants receive access to their own unique page on Loudoun Trail’s customizable website. All partners are also featured in a full-color brochure that will be distributed across the county. Additionally, Strout said the group will have regular networking meetings that will allow businesses to better work together as a community, like helping a musician book a performance with a local brewery.
Ahead of its September launch, the group is still working on a name for the trail. Before it hands out surveys across the county for a final decision, Loudoun artisans gathered for a naming kick off event March 28 at the Stone Tower Winery near Leesburg. Several proposals focused on the county’s traditional symbols like foxes and horses. Other artisans suggested naming the Trail after the county’s heritage and history. Many more centered on community.
“Riding around on the back roads, I have a story for every quarter mile that have happened through history, but a person from out of town can ride that same road and they can still feel it.” said Sam Kroiz, co-owner of Georges Mill Artisan Cheeses in Lovettsville. “They don’t have to know all the same stories. They can tell how rich it is just by driving around.”