The Tamarack Foundation has been listed by the GreatNonprofits Web site as one of its top-rated arts nonprofits in the nation, just as officials are stressing to state legislators the importance of the foundation’s work.

“This is a terrific honor,” Sally Barton, executive director of the Tamarack Foundation, said Friday. “We are working so hard to raise awareness of the work we do and its importance to West Virginia’s small business economy.”

The foundation has for some time been listed on GuideStar.org, which created GreatNonprofits.org as a portal for feedback about nonprofit organizations, Barton said. When notified that the foundation would be featured on the new site, Barton sent an e-mail link to active artisans associated with the foundation.

Dozens of those artisans submitted written reviews of their experiences with the foundation to the Web site. The overwhelmingly positive nature of those reviews contributed to the foundation being named a top-rated arts nonprofit.

Lori McKinney-Blankenship, co-founder and administrator of the RiffRaff Arts Collective in Princeton, wrote that her business “has benefited enormously from the guidance and assistance of the Tamarack Foundation. At one point, we were in an emergency situation and the Artisan Relief Fund saved us; our work could not have continued without their support.”

The Artisan Relief Fund provides grants to juried Tamarack artists suffering career-threatening events beyond their control.

Tessie Wallace, a Kanawha County blacksmith, wrote that “we received a grant to help fund a much-needed piece of equipment for our blacksmithing studio ...  a new high-speed bandsaw that allows us to do a week’s amount of work in just one day. Now we are able to finish projects faster and can take on more work.”

Barton has been spending time in Charleston this legislative session to educate lawmakers about the worth of the Tamarack Foundation. Artisans have been sending letters to legislators as well.

“It’s important to understand the difference between Tamarack and the Tamarack Foundation,” Barton said. “The foundation functions as a small-business incubator, training and developing artisans who create small businesses to add to the state’s economy.

“Tamarack receives public funding, but the Tamarack Foundation’s only public funding was the initial funding from the state Parkways Authority, which ended two years ago. That helped bring in a lot of out-of-state dollars nationwide. It’s really hurt us not having that public funding connection.”

Last year, the Tamarack Foundation released a study prepared by Marshall University that showed Tamarack contributed $18.6 million to the West Virginia economy during the 2008 fiscal year.

“Once I had our study, which wasn’t just anecdotal, I pushed to areas like North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where Appalachia is appreciated,” Barton said. “West Virginia is the only state that’s entirely in Appalachia and I think we have a great story to tell. The out-of-state response has been, ‘This is great, but why isn’t the state of West Virginia supporting you?’”

Attempting to change that situation, Barton took part in Arts Day at the Legislature on Jan. 25 and showed lawmakers that the Tamarack Foundation has touched 1,974 arts-based businesses during the last five years.

“We’ve really broadened our base of support among our legislators this year, especially Raleigh County’s lawmakers,” Barton said. “Sen. Mike Green (D-Raleigh) has been great.”

The Tamarack Foundation has received other national honors, including the 2009 Home-Based Business Champion award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“I take phone calls every month from around the country of people asking, ‘How do you do it?’ I always say our work here is about education in the arts that produces small business,” Barton said.

The foundation created the Artisan Resource Center in Beckley, where artists from across West Virginia visit for business consulting and development.

“We also hold informational and counseling sessions around the state,” Barton said. “We are able to help because of our very in-depth understanding of who an artist is and what they need.”

For more information, go to www.tamarackwv.com/foundation.

— E-mail: bjohnson@register-herald.com

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