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Art and hope in Santa Fe

International Folk Art Market highlights economic development potential of artisans

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Colorful entrance sign for Santa Fe's International Folk Art Market which celebrates its 10th anniversary July 12-14.

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Colorful entrance sign for Santa Fe's International Folk Art Market which celebrates its 10th anniversary July 12-14.

SANTA FE, N.M. -- For 10 years, the International Folk Art Market has brought some of the world's finest artisans from far-flung and often poverty-stricken locales to peddle their wares in the well-heeled, artistic mountain town of Santa Fe.

The show has brought in millions of dollars for the artists, many of whom have gone home to start businesses that employ other mostly impoverished women from developing countries. But it has also helped draw attention to what officials with a new U.S. State Department-backed alliance say is one of the largest but most ignored global industries.

"The artisan sector is the second-largest employer in the developing world, after agriculture," said Peggy Clark, co-chair of The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and vice-president of the Aspen Institute. "But it's just not thought of as a driver of economic growth."

To try to change that, the State Department last year launched the alliance in partnership with the Aspen Institute. Members include the folk market, retailers, even giants corporations like Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart.

"What the alliance does that is so incredibly important is it brings all the key players into the space," said Melanne Verveer, who launched the group under former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before they both left the State Department.

"There are representatives of the artisans, those intermediaries that work in terms of developing the export and import opportunities. Then there are the buyers, from West End to Wal-Mart. This creates opportunities that are incalculable."

The International Folk Art Market takes place July 12-14 and is open to the public. Nearly 200 artisans from 60 countries will be selling everything from exquisite textiles and handmade baskets to jewelry and musical instruments. The alliance will hold its first workshop in Santa Fe following the market.

"It is the most amazing trip around the world," says Keith Recker, the founder and editor of Hand/Eye magazine and a member of the market's board.

"The artisan can really take you on an enthusiastic trip, from the colours of Africa to the dense textures of wool and alpaca fiber from South America to embroidery from Asia. Whatever you are interested in, you are going to find some way to dive in."

This year's market marks the 10th anniversary of the event, which since its inception has had 650 artists from 80 countries represented. Those artists have logged more than $16 million in sales, 90 per cent of which has gone home with them.

The market is known for finding top artisans around the world, helping participants with travel costs and giving them training for building businesses and co-operatives when they get home. In many instances, proceeds are used for community projects in developing countries like schools, houses and wells.

It has also served to empower women, enabling many to become breadwinners in countries where such roles are traditionally frowned upon, Recker said. "Craft has the double-edged sword of being small and intimate and under the radar, a way for women to really move forward without rattling too many feathers in the power struggle," he said.

The market's history is full of stories of artisans who go on to create co-operatives that allow women to work from their homes, helping to lift their families and communities out of poverty while preserving ancient traditions.

"Santa Fe in many ways has led the way," said Verveer, who is now director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. "It has been very much a trailblazer in this space and what it has been able to do in terms ... of this bigger picture, the bigger economic opportunity, particularly for women."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 E11

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