To those unfamiliar with the poverty-stricken black belt region of the Southeast, the area is not an expected locale for up-and-coming artists. Yet despite its dependency on agriculture and its economic instability, the region has long fostered the creativity of folk artists such as the famous Quilters of Gee’s Bend. Artists inspired by the region’s black fields and mossy oaks have settled in the small town of Camden, Alabama, a village whose native beauty and classic southern architecture have been deeply worn by the passage of time. Here, a small community of artists thrives in a town whose aged plantation homes are not far from abandoned railroads and the dilapidated garages of local tractor repair shops, the calling cards of Southern poverty.
Modernity is evidenced in the “new” part of town, a collection of 1980s gas stations and abandoned strip malls whose lack of charm is in deep conflict with the rest of the town’s aura of ancient southern grandeur. Needless to say, while the inspired artists of the region create a remarkable portfolio of work, the population of potential buyers in Camden is not large enough to sustain the community indefinitely.
As part of its ongoing initiative to grow economic prosperity in the region, a team of students from the University of Alabama Management Information Systems program joined a local non-profit organization to reenergize the town and foster the artists’ opportunities for success with a brick-and-click solution. The result is Black Belt Treasures.
Black Belt Treasures is a charming artists’ gallery designed by the student team with the help of architects and supplemented by a student-built online store that provides a global market for the artists’ work. The benefits to the community are many: while the online component of the shop provides a massively expanded buyer group for the artists, the beautiful storefront and quirky art pieces punctuate the town’s quiet magic and appeal to a growing tourist industry.
The experience gave students the opportunity to participate in a variety of service industries from the perspective of business consultants. The team designed the core business processes of both the Black Belt Treasures gallery and its supporting online store, including product sales, inventory management, artist relationship management, shipping, and customer relationship management. The team was uniquely positioned to understand manage the both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer relationships needed to transform the project from an idealistic vision into a successful business with long term viability.
The Center for Ethics at UA is including information about Black Belt Treasures, LEARN, and other MIS projects in a new publication for University leaders across all disciplines to inspire more classes to include service-oriented projects and grow a lifelong commitment to service among UA students. The MIS program is proud to grow business professionals that understand the importance of community support throughout their careers.