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Our Approach
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As part of the Lag Zo Project, Tibetan artisans take part in a 3-day training workshop in Yushu, China, focused on artisan marketing. Photo by Dawa Drolma, Smithsonian Institution.

We apply the principles of local partnership, youth engagement, and culturally sensitive design across the three major activities of SAI: research and documentation, training, and market access.

Research and Documentation

Research and documentation forms the core and foundation of our work. We begin with an artisan survey that collects important baseline information about artisan enterprises, including types of craft, process, production, and enterprise capacity. This information is then incorporated into a value chain analysis, which identifies areas of strength and weakness in the local context and provides the information necessary to plan locally specific training and market interventions.

Community-driven research and documentation then builds on the basic information collected during the survey and analysis and offers a deeper exploration on the ecosystem of artisan craft practice and tradition. This research builds a strong foundation, informs the development of all other activities, and serves two critical needs for artisans. First, in communities where artisan traditions and skills are in danger of being lost, the documentation serves as an invaluable reference for the preservation of craft products and processes. It also provides the necessary foundation for craft development and can play an important role in protecting copyright. Second, where artisans are trying to reach new markets, high-quality documentation of people, process, and product provides the raw media necessary to create content-rich and engaging materials to promote craft tradition.

Training

Hands-on, on-the-job training is more effective than traditional classroom training. Participants who are provided an immediate opportunity to apply learning objectives from training programs are significantly more likely to adopt new skills and practices.

We pair training with one-on-one mentorship and alternate training and sales opportunities. This cycle gives participants the time and experiences they need to adopt and apply new skills and capitalize on the results. The type and content of training provided will depend on assessment information and insight from documentation and research.

Some examples of training modules:

Product design and development workshops

We use a range of tools for product development and design, with an eye toward improved transmission and minimally invasive techniques. Depending on availability of local partners, we pair young designers with artisans for training and new product development. This process can bring new ideas into artisan products and processes, while the young designer can learn more about process and traditions. Using documentation of current and historical craft as a basis, we employ local and international product designers to work with specific artisan groups to prototype unique, high-quality products for both local and international markets.

Technical skill workshops

Depending on need, we provide expertise for technical skill-building. For example, for textile artisans, this may include intensive workshops focused on improving sewing and construction techniques.

Artisan enterprise workshops

As artisans expand their product lines and enterprises, they often struggle to manage growth. Challenges range from administrative tasks like budgeting, cost and price, and export processes to communication issues around developing marketing materials and emailing with buyers. We offer practical workshops and one-on-one sessions with artisan enterprises to build their capacity in these areas. Workshop materials are tailored to their needs and may include broad market orientation, enterprise skills development courses, small-group trainings, and one-on-one mentorship.

Market Access

As in our training programs, the Smithsonian Artisan Initiative approach to market access is customized based on variable local contexts and the specific cultural sustainability goals of artisans, their communities, and our local partners.

Some examples of market access activities:

Strengthening local and regional market share

Working with local partners and actors in the artisan value chain, we identify potential local wholesalers and retailers to promote artisan product. We look for opportunities to strengthen the position of artisan products in the local market, including merchandising support for retailers and improved payment terms or access to microfinancing. We also promote artisan craft in the local context. This may include working with governments to recognize excellence in craft tradition, creating unique local marketing events or exhibitions of craft, and creating campaigns to celebrate and promote cultural traditions.

Linking artisans to tourism market

We work with artisans, tour operators, and other tourism enterprises to increase sales of artisan products to tourists. This may include creating engaging artisan demonstration experiences, merchandising artisan product in retail points, and working with tourism actors to find additional ways to increase tourist touch points with artisans and their products.

Introducing or strengthening international market access

For artisans who are already exporting or ready to export, we provide a number of opportunities including participation in events like the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Marketplace and the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, and wholesale opportunities like the Smithsonian Folklife Market Incubator at Artisan Resource at NYNOW and buyer trips.

Celebrating artisans and their craft traditions

For all our participants, we work with artisans and local partners to create and share stories on Smithsonian’s media platforms, including Talk Story and Smithsonian.com. These platforms reach millions of people across the United States and around the world.


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