Tucker County has a burgeoning art scene, and many of the county's residents, businesses and community leaders are striving to support it both by encouraging creativity and diversity and by fostering sustainable economic stability.
Bruce Wilson, co-owner of the West Virginia Highlands Gallery, a nonprofit based in Tucker County that supports local art and artists, said the area increasingly is becoming a destination for art lovers, and the scene grows every year.
A major contributing factor to this growth is the considerable work local businesses and community members dedicate to developing and promoting the arts in the county.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Joe Hoover
Anne Jones, executive director of the Tucker County Development Authority, sits in front of her office at The Cottrill Opera House in Thomas. Jones, who previously resided in Washington D.C., New York City and London, England, fell in love with Tucker County after her first visit.
Tucker's annual art festival, ArtSpring, which started in 2011 and runs through Memorial Day weekend, increased local galleries weekend earnings by 85 to 100 percent the first time the festival took place, Wilson said.
This year, the festival was even larger and local businesses saw similar success.
Wilson also said there are a number of other seasonal events that feature the arts and culture, like the Alpine Festival 4th of July Symphony performance and the Leaf Peepers festival.
These events do not just benefit the arts, Wilson added.
"While they certainly increase expenditure on the arts, they also add to the income of the realty and food industries as well as other businesses," he said.
Also, these cross-industry benefits are amplified by business leaders being willing to work together.
Anne Jones, executive director of the Tucker County Development Authority, said one of the primary characteristics of businesses in Tucker County is the ability to collaborate.
"In Tucker, success comes from working together, not pitting one business against another. We are successful when we work together," Jones said. "I have heard people in a lot of different communities talk about this, but it is not always put into practice. Events like ArtSpring give people a chance to actually work together."
Rebecca Wudarski, a barrista the TipTop coffee shop in Thomas and an accomplished musician, said this kind collaboration is essential for artists and anyone trying to run a successful business in an area like Tucker County.
"We are kind of isolated here, with the mountains and the relative distance from large populations, so we really have to cooperate in order for our community to thrive," Wudarski said. "This is why, when you walk into a business here, you are more likely than not going to be told about other businesses in the area."
Jones said one of the outcomes of this kind of cooperation is a new kind of event- and entertainment-based tourism.
"Events like ArtSpring change the nature of tourism. We create the event, we create the atmosphere, and it draws people here," she said.
Wudarski said many of the people she's met who have been drawn to Tucker County came expecting to encounter a certain culture and experience.
"We have a lot of really interesting people here. Artists and musicians from all over the country - New York and D.C. and San Francisco - have chosen Tucker County as their home and, consequently, it's a really interesting place," she said.
In a sense, it seems like many of Tucker County's residents are dealing with community and cultural development as an art in and of itself. The identity of Tucker County is something its residents cherish and nurture - something they create.
Wudarski said there is a very specific and cool kind of person who is typically drawn to the area.
"They appreciate our community for exactly what it is, and they want to be a part of it," she said.
While Wudarski said she sometimes worries about the potential for growth and popularity to erode cultural diversity and vitality, she said she is confident Tucker County will be able to preserve the qualities that its residents value so highly.
With the upcoming completion of Corridor H, Tucker County is likely going to see a lot of changes in the near future.
"We have something of a perfect storm looming on the horizon," Jones said. "Corridor H will make our area a lot more accessible. With the election, a lot of people will be changing jobs and looking for places where they can relocate. And, hopefully the economy will start picking up. I think if we do things right, and continue having events like ArtSpring, we'll see a lot of good things begin to happen in our county."