The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, which has brought artisans and their students to Gatlinburg for decades, is in turmoil on learning that its 70-acre downtown campus will soon be sold. Pi Beta Phi, the sorority that owns the property, is close to inking a deal with developers to sell the land for an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars.
Arrowmont, according to an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel will get a pittance of the price of the land. “Pi Phi has pledged to give $1 million to the school, donate $2 million to Arrowmont for new facilities and invest up to $7 million in Arrowmont’s future.”
The School’s website contains a series of news releases in which the reader can track an organization in shock. First, the School attempts to assure potential students that everything will continue as always, then the tone begins to harden as David Willard, director the School, points out that neither he nor the board has been consulted about the sale–surprise, surprise–and a September 7 statement mentions that the School has “engaged an attorney to investigate every possibility related to the sale of the land.”
Save your money, Arrowmont–your time in Gatlinburg is over. Get the best deal you can and, like Abraham and family, get the heck out of this plastic town and don’t look back.
For at least 20 years, Arrowmont, has been an artistic anomaly in the Gatlinburg glut of T-shirts and tackiness. Now is the perfect time to relocate to a town that appreciates craftmanship and culture, one that will be a better fit for the School, its students, and its faculty.
Although Arrowmont is a non-profit, it should model its move on industries–most recently Volkswagen–who seek new homes in Tennessee. Ask for subsidies. Look for help in converting existing buildings to art education facilities. Find grants aimed at boosting small towns.
Go green. Take an old factory building and retrofit it to look good and save energy. Find a dead downtown and adapt storefronts so that passersby can watch artists working and classes being taught. If you have to build new building, make it a stunner–but ask for free land on which to site it.
Arrowmont’s students are often upscale, well-educated folk. Tuition for a one-week tapestry weaving class is $400 plus meals and lodging. People who have the time and the money to do that will happily spend money for good meals and other tourism related services. What about the spouse or partner of the person taking that class? The kind of person who wouldn’t be caught dead in Gatlinburg might be interested in hiking, biking, or other activities. All of these could generate income that could make a difference in a small town.
As a songwriter once wrote, “you have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold them.” While this impending land sale seems like a catastrophe, I think it may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to Arrowmont.
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