Passing the HandMade torch

HandMade in America, the Asheville-based nonprofit that brought Western North Carolina crafts new attention, was born in the mind of Becky Anderson in 1993. The area native married the idea of place-based economics to the artistry of the region’s craft tradition, placing new emphasis on how to support handmade crafts and their creators as an economic engine as well as a boon to artistic appreciation.

The handoff: Becky Anderson, left, founder of HandMade in America, is leaving the nonprofit in the hands of Geraldine Plato, the new executive director. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Fourteen years later, Anderson will be stepping down as the head of HandMade at the end of March. And following a year of goal-setting and searching, HandMade has hired Geraldine Plato of Penland as its new executive director. She’ll take the post on March 1.

“We worked very closely with a consultant to help us look at ourselves,” board chair David Erickson says of the yearlong process that has involved both board and staff members. Two top priorities that emerged were fundraising and technology.

The organization, which Erickson says is in “very, very good health” in terms of personnel, programs and finances, is recognized as a model for innovation in its core area—the 22 counties of WNC—and its initiatives have been influential both nationally and internationally.

Erickson says the new directions HandMade wants to take dovetailed with the criteria for, and skills of, the new director. They include moving away from reliance on philanthropic funding and attracting more entrepreneurial backing, using some of the organization’s own intellectual properties. A second initiative will be incorporating new technology to serve both the organization and the crafts people and artists it supports.

Plato was one of two finalists for the position, from a beginning field of some 100 interested parties. Formerly of Elyria, Ohio, she has lived and worked predominantly in WNC since 1984. She was affiliated with Penland School of Crafts in the 1980s, overseeing the scholarship program and coordination of all services, and again in the ‘90s as assistant director. She served as public-information director for the Mississippi Arts Commission, and most recently was head of the Spruce Pine Montessori School, developing programs and fundraising strategies in a four-county service area.

After leaving HandMade, Anderson plans to develop a consulting practice to spread her philosophy of place-based models further afield.

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