Third annual Arts and Eats Tour fast approaching

For the third consecutive year Barry and Allegan counties will host a weekend long back road tour featuring local art, farms, and food.

Fall can be a busy time for us all. The kids are back in school, football season is well under way and we are busy making the last preparations around the house for the long winter ahead. But Fall can also be the perfect time to get out and enjoy the natural and cultural attractions that the great state of Michigan has to offer. Two counties in Southwest Michigan are hoping that visitors from around the state, region, and country do just that, by participating in the third annual Arts and Eats Tour.

The self-guided tour highlights local artisans, farmers, and restaurants in both Allegan and Barry Counties by providing a numbered map/guide to visitors. The map and guide covers both counties, and highlights more than 50 locations for participants to visit including 30 artists, 12 farms and 11 restaurants. Participants are also provided with an Arts and Eats Passport that can be “stamped” at each location that you visit. Those participants who fill up all the spaces on the passport can turn it in and be entered in a drawing for amazing prizes from the locations featured on the tour, including custom art, gift certificates and much more.

The seeds for this idea were planted more than three years ago when Michigan State University Extension educator Ginger Hentz presented to a number of Barry county community members about regional branding/tour projects from around the country. After the presentation she was approached by a few of those community members who were wondering if something similar could be organized in Barry County. With a little time and hard work put in by a group of community members and organizations the first Arts and Eats tour was planned and took place during October 2011. After the success of the first year in Barry County the concept was expanded to include Allegan County as well and developed an even stronger regional focus.

One of the things that have helped Arts and Eats be so successful is the regional approach to branding and development. Although many of the sites on the tour offer vastly different experiences to visitors, the collective branding of the event allowed for all sites to benefit and helped infuse new money from around the state into small rural communities. Regional tourism marketing is important to small rural communities and helps them create low cost, low impact economic development strategies. In the case of Arts and Eats, this marketing strategy highlights assets that already exist in these two counties. It also uses the website and map and guide as venues for the public to learn about and then visit these hidden treasures in Southwest Michigan.

This year’s Arts and Eats tour will be held on October 19th and 20th, and will feature several special events at the tour venues as well as two public art participation experiences. For the most up to date information on this year’s tour, like us on Facebook.

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