San Antonio hits big with crafts portal

San Antonio's launch this month of an online gallery to promote regional artists and artisans made a big splash, generating more traffic in its first week than any storefront could handle.

The Catalog of On-site Artist Services, in the works for nearly three years, registered more than 500,000 hits its first week, benefiting from a pre-launch marketing campaign and an Internet-friendly city culture, said James LeFlore, program manager for the city's Public Art and Design Enhancement Program.

"The rally around promoting yourself on the Internet has become increasingly evident in San Antonio over the last couple years," LeFlore said. "People are really keyed in right now to checking it out."

The online catalog features individuals or groups creating art for the "built" environment — that is, for incorporation into buildings, landscapes or public spaces. Oscar Alvarado, for example, designs and builds mosaic-laden tables and chairs made of steel or concrete. Cathy Cunningham specializes in neon, stained glass and etched glass.

Visitors can peruse the Web site by artist or medium. The site is not designed to handle online transactions but simply to give architects, engineers, city planners or private citizens an opportunity to see what kind of work is available and to put them in contact with the artists, either by mail, phone or, most likely, e-mail.

"You can accomplish a lot through e-mail, so you don't have to travel and do studio visits," LeFlore said. For example, beyond the one or two pictures available on the Web site, many artists can send electronic images to potential clients. Otherwise, such online business "is difficult to obtain if you don't have a storefront."

The Web site stems from a neighborhood revitalization initiative in 1998. A committee, created by City Council, suggested creating a catalog to promote San Antonio's vibrant craft-making industry. Although a print edition is available, the city decided to go with an online catalog because it would be easier to distribute and update.

Prior to the May 14 launch, the city mailed postcards to architects and engineers, neighborhood associations and city leaders throughout the area, even generating some local radio and TV coverage despite competing with a San Antonio Spurs' playoff basketball game.

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