SANFORD, N.C. — Sanford's burgeoning arts scene includes more than its traditional pottery — theater and visual arts are thriving as well — and the Sanford Pottery Festival has been on the forefront of shaping the city's entire creative culture.
By promoting local arts in large mailings, building a cooperative spirit among artists in the area and contributing thousands of dollars to school arts programs, the festival has had a significant impact on the city and its growing reputation.
Since its inaugural event, the Sanford Pottery Festival has spent about $60,000 per year, on average, to advertise the weekend arts showcase, producing display ads and event guides that celebrate all the city has to offer. The most obvious example may be the festival's website, sanfordpottery.org, which devotes nearly as much space to antiques stores, downtown shopping, the city's railroad heritage and the Temple Theatre as it does to the festival itself.
As producing artistic director for the Temple Theatre, Peggy Taphorn is charged with bringing a full season of professional musicals and plays to life on the restored downtown stage. She believes the "cross-pollination" of local events like the pottery festival and professional theater helps elevate the city and convey what she calls Sanford's growing "coolness."
"I know that Don has done very well in marketing the pottery festival and the Temple has always been a willing partner in that effort," she says, referring to festival director Don Hudson, who also owns the DK Clay pottery studio with business partner Kenneth Neilsen. "This year, we are featuring DK Clay and the pottery festival as 'featured artist' for our Art Walk fundraiser. We hope that it will do the same for the pottery festival as their mention of the Temple does for us."
Festival advertising also makes local potters more visible to potential customers. It all starts during that first weekend in May, when advertising draws aficionados from throughout the eastern United States to the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, where they exchange tens of thousands of dollars for those perfect pieces of art. Kevin Brown of North Cole Pottery participates in about a dozen shows each year and says the Sanford Pottery Festival is clearly his most lucrative.
But the festival's impact doesn't end there. Brown says festival advertising — which has recently included promotions for a smaller local show just before Christmas — helps sustain interest in local arts all year long. People who see ads, he says, stop by his studio to shop weeks and months after the event.
Many artists and community leaders credit the Sanford Pottery Festival with kindling the local arts scene, which is slowly becoming an important part of the local economy. The question is how to keep fanning those flames — which means more artists, tourists and spending here.
One way, Hudson says, is to enhance arts education, so everyone can develop an interest in the arts and talented young people and get an opportunity to thrive. To that make that happen, the Sanford Pottery Festival regularly sends potters into the schools and has already donated more than $140,000 to purchase art supplies for local students.
Another way is to trumpet what the community already offers, so its visibility and reputation can draw shoppers to enhance the local economy and more artists looking for the kind of vibrant creative community Sanford offers. Bob Joyce, president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, believes it's essential in a competitive environment for all communities to promote their uniqueness — especially when the pottery festival conveys such a positive image.
Brown agrees. "The more you're known as a community for art, the larger it gets," he says. "Like draws like, and it gets to be a vibrant, wonderful artistic community."
The Lee County Economic Development Corp. is a nonprofit organization established to attract industry, enhance job opportunities and promote sound planning across Lee County. Funding is provided by the county, as well as the City of Sanford and Town of Broadway, the county's two municipalities.