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A man wearing safety glasses sits at a work table, holding a screwdriver-like tool in one hand and a cylindrical silver tin art piece in the other.
Artisan Francisco Cisneros welds pieces together for the base of a Feather Dance headdress.
Photo by Luis Martinez
  • Heritage & Handicrafts: OAXACA

Oaxaca, the southern Mexican state known as a global arts and culture hub, boasts a staggering array of Indigenous-led, artisan craft-based creative industries. It is also considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, where artisans play an important role in both stewarding the environment and utilizing natural materials in their work. Oaxaca is home to important archaeological sites, whose folklore, history, and iconography contribute to craft practices and drives additional tourism interests.

Heritage & Handicrafts: OAXACA is a community-based project that aims to deepen connections between culture bearers and with local and international markets. Sponsored by the Cultural Heritage Center in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State, the two-year pilot project launched in September 2022 with the aim of increasing visibility and revenue for artisan enterprises while decreasing trafficking of objects from historic and other culturally significant sites.

The project was designed in partnership with artisans, cultural leaders, and educators. Using a cultural ecosystem model, our Center and a team from the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca – School of Fine Arts identified needs, relationships, and activities required to support community cultural sustainability goals. The result is a suite of research, documentation, workshops, exchanges, and presentations, all aiming to amplify artisan enterprises, enhance the visibility of the sector, and strengthen pathways for intergenerational knowledge and skills transfer.

Community Focus

The project focuses on programs in the town of Zaachila and surrounding communities in the Oaxacan Central Valleys. Zaachila is known for significant Zapotec and Mixtec archeological sites and the Danza de la Pluma (Feather Dance), an important tradition connecting the community to its tangible heritage and which uses various artisan craft practices.

Key Activities

A man manipulates bright orange material into the shape of a large flower.
Roberto Miguel Silva gathers freshly dyed feathers to begin a new piece in his workshop.
Photo by Luis Martinez
Research and Documentation
Six people sit around a table talking.
Advisor Lesli Robertson meets with artisans during the January workshop to discuss product design ideas.
Photo by Luis Martinez
Artisan Workshops and Exchanges
A man poses holding a red and orange sculpture of a lion or other teeth-bearing large cat, wearing a bright blue scarf, next to culptures of a green iguana and a black cat with green and orange feather headdress.
Luis Pablo displays some of his recently completed alebrijes (sculptures of fantastical creatures).
Photo by Luis Martinez
Continuing Education Course
A woman works on a large loom in front of a small crowd of people outdoors.
Weavers from Oaxaca demonstrated their craft at the 2010 Folklife Festival’s Mexico program.
Photo by Richard Strauss, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Stone relief art of a person wearing a semicircular headdress, adorned with brightly colored feathers.
Zapotec Feather Dancer relief from Abel Aguilar Vasquez of Taller Garul.
Photo by Luis Martinez
Group Exhibition

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