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Artistic endeavors

Vevay gives life to new arts scene

New tourism chief, others behind push
to create Switzerland County culture boom

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(November 2006) – Switzerland County, Ind., situated along the Ohio River Scenic Byway, has a long and rich history in cultivating grapes and producing wine. The county boasts of being the site of the first commercial winery in the United States.
There is much to do in Switzerland County, including a visit to the luxurious Belterra Casino Resort, located seven miles east of the county seat, Vevay.

The Mercantile

Photo by Konnie McCollum

The Mercantile is one of several
new retail shops to open in
downtown Vevay in recent months.

With a population of about 1,400 people, Vevay is a town rich in historic and cultural preservation. It has more than 300 buildings that date back to the 19th century, and the entire town is listed on the Indiana State Historic Register. There are several museums and tourist attractions, including the Life on the Ohio River History Museum, the Switzerland County Historical Museum, the Ridge Winery, and the newly remodeled Best Western Ogle Haus.
In recent months, Vevay has seen an explosive growth in an area of its culture that has always been quietly on the sidelines – its arts scene. Local residents and tourists have flocked to the small town to take part in the exciting renaissance in the town’s art culture.
David Attaway, executive director of Switzerland County Welcome Center, said it is not any one thing that has created the surge in the arts scene. “It is a percolation effect that has not all been planned.”
He said the community became excited and extremely supportive about a new “First Friday” initiative, which members of the community instituted. Simultaneously, tourism leaders came out with a new plan called “A Vision for Switzerland County” to help artisans and local retailers better market their wares and capitalize on the 500,000 visitors who come to the county each year. The combination has created a contagious desire in the entire community to support the local artists and shop owners. It has also created a surge in new shops and art galleries throughout downtown Vevay.
The “First Friday” program was started by Meredith Luhrs of Community Studio Gallery. It is a program in which on the first Friday evening of the month visitors, residents, gallery owners and the community gather to socialize, visit the various galleries and shops in downtown Vevay, listen to live music and dine at the local restaurants.
“I wanted something that would get people together to socialize, so I used the format of the Gallery Hop that I had seen while in Philadelphia,” Luhrs said. She believes that social interaction is important to the development of the downtown art and business culture. A similar concept is used in many cities and towns across the country and the region.

Signatures of Switzerland County

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Vevay area artisans showcase and sell
their works at the new retail store,
Signatures of Switzerland County.

Luhrs said the initial “First Friday” was held last February, and it seemed like an instant success. “It worked because people were looking for something to do,” she said.
Eventually, Vevay’s Main Street Program stepped in and helped with sponsorships to add live music and more galleries into the hop.
The move also tied the event with local retail stores. The results have created an economic stimulus for the town, they say.
At the “First Friday” on Oct. 6, six galleries, seven retail shops and numerous food and beverage establishments were included in the program, and live music entertained the crowds at several locations.
Tony and Peggy Cantanzaro, owners of Tony’s Art Studio, 205 Liberty St., said the “First Friday” program has helped their business tremendously. “Everyone ends up here after the program ends, which is just doing great things for us,” Tony said.
Peggy said the community has rallied around the “First Fridays,” and tourism and business appear to be increasing throughout the entire community.
Kim Jackson, owner of the Coffee Works Café, 117 W. Main St., said the “First Friday” events are increasing her sales tremendously. “Each week we seem to do better and better.”
Her café is one of the sites for the live music during each of the Friday night events. Each month, she also displays a different exhibit for the Community Studio Gallery.
Martha Bladen, one of several owners of unique retail shop called The Bizarre Ladies, said the “First Friday” events have brought in not only tourists but also local people who hadn’t ever been to many of the downtown shops. “For our shop, particularly, the live music offered by the events has helped improve awareness of the shop because the musicians are located in the field adjacent to the store,” she said.
Bladen added that the continuation of the events should certainly help many of the downtown retailers during the offseason.

David Attaway

David Attaway

The next “First Friday” will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 3. Weather conditions may change some of the entertainment plans, but the galleries, shops and restaurants along the way will be open and ready for fun, planners say. Jackson said the acoustic duo of SameSoul from Madison will be performing at her café during the event.
Attaway said, “A real entertainment surprise and treat is in the works for the upcoming ‘First Friday.’ ” He would not say what that surprise would be.
Concurrently, while the community was pulling together and momentum was increasing because of the “First Friday” events, tourism officials were developing a plan to help stimulate all facets of economic development in the county.
Attaway said the tourism board held a retreat last year in which the goals and objectives for the county were discussed. One of the exercises at the retreat was to come up with ideas “as if money was no object.”
“I told everyone to shoot for the moon,” Attaway said. He said the retreat provided a new energy and a grander scale of thinking than was previously considered.
Several challenges for the community were identified and several goals were set. One of the challenges discussed was how to move the tourists visiting Belterra Casino Resort & Spa through the rest of the county. Officials also recognized the need to help current struggling businesses, launch new endeavors and increase marketing for existing businesses.

Meredith Luhrs

Meredith Luhrs

“We wanted to fill voids and build on what already existed in the community, not necessarily recruit outside of the community,” Attaway said. He said it was important to tourism leaders that the small town charm and unique characteristics of Vevay and Switzerland County be retained. “We don’t want to be any other community.”
A two-year cooperative project called “A Vision for Switzerland County” evolved from the discussions. The project, managed by tourism, is funded by the Switzerland County Council, the Town of Vevay, Switzerland County Tourism, Switzerland County Economic Development, the Vevay-Switzerland County Foundation and the Community Foundation of Switzerland County.
The project encompasses county-wide welcoming signage, county business workshops in marketing, incentives, building renovations and the Vevay Main Street Facade and Signage.

Angie Satterfield

Angie Satterfield

Part of the plans call for creating five retail businesses over the next two years. Two of those businesses, The Mercantile, 314 Ferry St., and Signatures of Switzerland County, 120 W. Main St., have opened. A third retail store is scheduled to open in December.
Angie Satterfield, project manager for Visions of Switzerland County, said the project opened its first store, The Mercantile, in October. The retail store allows community artisans and craftsman to sell their wares for a small commission fee. County residents pay a 20 percent commission on sales, while out-of-county residents pay 30 percent on sales.
The Mercantile is a retail shop in which artists can bring in their products and sell them. “The talent has always been here, but many artists and craftsman simply didn’t have the financial means or the appropriate outlet to show their goods. The Mercantile now fills that void,” Satterfield said.
Although still in its infancy, the store has received much positive feedback. Satterfield said, “Out of the 64 initial participating artisans, two-thirds have already received checks, and sales are growing daily.” She said tourists as far away as France have visited the store, which is the only place in the country to get some of the exclusive Switzerland County goods.

Kim Works

Kim Works

Signatures of Switzerland County is the second of the retail stores to open. It held its soft opening on Oct. 6. The store is strictly for artisans and craftsman to show finer quality work. Both stores are part of the “First Friday” gallery hop in the town.
Attaway said the combination of the Visions project and the community “First Friday” efforts have created a long-term vision for the community. He said officials and residents are encouraged but realistic. They are looking for sustainable economic growth and development.
“Instead of constraints, there are now positive possibilities, and people are starting to see a tangible delivery system of who we are.”

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