We aim 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.
Cultural expression is essential to human well-being and community health. The Center works with our partners to preserve and elevate cultural practices, including those that improve and sustain local economies. Artisans are important partners in this work. Historically, artisans were also designers, creating products based on local aesthetic and sociocultural needs. Rapid changes brought on by urbanization and globalization have largely isolated artisans, as local markets choose cheaper, mass-produced alternatives.
This isolation has contributed to the loss of traditional knowledge as artisans turn to agriculture and other trades to earn a living. As young people flock to cities in search of new opportunity, they are less likely to acquire knowledge of craft traditions 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 is dedicated to building the sustainability of these traditions. The program brings together community-driven research and documentation, product design and development, enterprise training, and a suite of tools artisans can use to unlock access to markets.
- Local Partners
We aim to leave a small footprint, ensuring all activities build the capacity of local counterparts. We accomplish this by building strong partnerships with communities and local organizations, providing specific tools to accomplish their cultural sustainability goals.
- Youth Engagement
We aim to restore intergenerational knowledge transfer by engaging youth. For example, using technology to promote cultural practice, pairing young designers with elder artisans for collaborative projects, or working with local urban brands to introduce handmade elements into their product lines.
- Appropriate Market Access
While we recognize the tremendous potential of international market access, we take a balanced approach to product design with an eye toward local markets and the meaning of products in their cultural contexts.