North Star Destination Strategies from Nashville, working with the creative team of artists and staff from the Toe River Arts Council, has completed the first stage of a multi-faceted and long-term project to brand Mitchell and Yancey counties for the arts. The result is a crisp but familiar name for the region, a distinctive logo, a unique and balanced strapline (also known as a tagline), and a compelling narrative. In addition, North Star has delivered a comprehensive Final BrandPrint Report with a plan on how best to use the materials and concepts to promote the area for the arts.
The crisp but familiar name for the region is Toe River Arts. After conducting surveys of artists and of the community at large (a total of 371 respondents), the favored name was Toe River Arts as representing the geographic region and the arts within that region. Toe River Arts is focused on uniting the two counties as a cultural arts destination and making the area’s rich arts resources known both regionally and nationally with the ultimate goal of revitalizing the local economy through the arts.
The next decision was about a strapline. North Star calls a strapline an important tool because its job is to strap together the missions and agenda of the many organizations and people involved with a community brand. They suggested “Journey of the Arts. Art of the Journey.” The creative committee was drawn to it because, in North Star’s words, “A slight rearranging of the word order on each side changes the meaning of the words, thus recognizing the value of both types of journeys in the Toe River experience.”
North Star presented a dozen appealing logo options to the creative committee. They chose one, which they fine-tuned in subtle ways to reach the final version. The need for compelling signage to serve a number of purposes was a primary motivator for the choice, which is bold and easy to read. The mark is strong enough to work well on signage on curving mountain roads but simple enough to reduce to a small size for use on websites or letterhead. It feels modern but the unique typeface connects to the history of the mountains. Its simplicity also makes it easy for use by Toe River artists looking for promotional collaboration. In time, the three color blocks alone could become shorthand for the region.
The fourth major distillation of North Star’s extensive research was a narrative to use in talking about the qualities that make Mitchell and Yancey counties such an ideal location for making and appreciating the arts. Parts of this narrative will be interwoven in presentations and press releases about Toe River Arts, including on the website being developed for the project.
Essential to branding the area is visible, attractive signage for artists and arts venues. That is the goal of the next phase—wayfinding—and MERJE Design, based in Chester, PA., will guide all aspects of the wayfinding project, including placement of roadway signage. Mayland Community College and Altec will lend support to create signage for individual artist studios. John Bosio with MERJE will be in the area for two days in July consulting with area leaders to begin the research leading to effective wayfinding and signage.
The Toe River Arts Branding and Wayfinding project is funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation, the John and Robyn Horn Foundation, and the US Economic Development Administration. Eighteen local agencies, individuals and artists participated in the planning and continue to commit time and financial resources to complete this project. Anyone interested in finding out more about the Toe River Arts Branding and Wayfinding Project may contact Projects Coordinator Rob Heffron at Rob@toeriverarts.org. Copies of the Final BrandPoint Report from North Star are available to read at the TRAC Galleries in Spruce Pine and Burnsville.
Whether you are a maker of art, a lover of art, or both...time spent exploring Toe River Arts is proof that not all those who wander are lost. That the journey of the arts is well worth the taking. And that when you do it right, there’s an exquisite art to the journey itself.