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A group of people sit on the floor gathered around a traditional felt quilt made of brown and tan fabric. The woman who sewed the quilt sits above the group on a stool, explaining her process.

Tamara and Bulbul Kapkyzy show the Center’s Cultural Sustainability team different forms of traditional felt carpet-making outside of Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Photo by James Deutsch

  • Center Signs Five-Year Agreement with Union of Artisans of Kazakhstan

    Effective March 17, 2021, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Union of Artisans of Kazakhstan.

    This five-year MOU reflects the Center’s commitment to promoting and understanding the vitality of cultural diversity through bolstering cultural scholarship, traditional artistry, contemporary cultural creativity, and participation. Under the agreement and through Smithsonian Artisan Initiative programming, the Center will work with the Union of Artisans to collaboratively research, promote, and sustain Kazakhstan’s cultural heritage and creative industry.

    “The Union of Artisans has been instrumental in energizing and sustaining craft in communities across Kazakhstan,” said Halle Butvin, the Center’s director of special projects. “We are excited to work together in support of their efforts to pass knowledge on to the next generation.”

    Specifically, the MOU provides opportunities for joint knowledge and skill-building surrounding traditional Kazakhstani handicraft, documentation processes, and collaborative research. It also outlines the collaborative development of training materials and workshops co-hosted by the organizations tailored for youth, craftspeople, and those interested in Kazakhstan’s craft and cultural heritage.

    “We are thrilled to further our cooperation with the Center, which will expand international experiences for our artisans,” said Aizhan Bekkulova, chairperson of the Union of Artisans.

    Already, the two organizations have begun to develop STEAM-focused cultural heritage workshops for youth in partnership with the American Councils for International Education’s Makerspace Expands! Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State.

    Central to this effort, the Center will organize four two-hour participatory workshops for twenty to thirty Makerspace participants, combining skill-building in oral history documentation and storytelling with relationship development and a variety of making activities. Instructors will teach from and refer to skills in the Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide and a self-filming guide, each of which has already been translated into Russian and Kazakh.

    The first workshop, Dastarkhan (referring to both the traditional cloth where food is spread, and the food itself), will be held in the weeks following Nowruz, in April 2021, and focus on storytelling and food traditions. The following three workshops, in April, May, and June 2021, will focus on craft and will be carried out with the Union of Artisans Kazakhstan. Each session will be led by a pair of instructors: an artist from Kazakhstan and an artist from the United States who share art-making mediums. Following each workshop, Folklife Magazine will publish a reflection from either instructors or participants on their experiences.

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