A large part of our mission is to increase the visibility and vitality of culture bearers, artists, and traditions to promote cultural expression as essential to human well-being and community health. In an effort to champion cultural vitality and sustainability, we work with individuals and communities to preserve and elevate cultural practices, including those that improve and sustain local economies.
We recognize artisans as critically important partners in this work. Historically, artisans have also worked as designers, creating products based on local aesthetic and sociocultural requirements of their client. Rapid changes brought on by urbanization and globalization have largely isolated artisans, as local clients turn toward cheaper, foreign-made alternatives. Often, artisans lack knowledge of and access to unknown urban and foreign niche markets. This isolation has contributed to the loss of traditional knowledge as artisans turn to agriculture and other trades to earn a living.
Further, as young people flock to urban centers in search of new opportunity, artisans are less likely to continue the long tradition of passing on this knowledge through family or apprenticeship. Traditions passed down and evolved over thousands of years can be lost in the length of one generation.
The Smithsonian Artisan Initiative (SAI) is dedicated to building the sustainability of these traditions. The program brings together community-driven research and documentation, product development, enterprise training, world-class design development, and a suite of tools artisans can use to unlock access to both local and international markets. SAI aims to reposition artisans as leaders of the creative economy by providing the knowledge, skills, and support necessary to revive and sustain their communities’ craft traditions.