Nonprofits Help International Folk Art Market Artists Preserve Traditions

Jul 12, 2013

More than 190 artists will converge on the Santa Fe this year for the 10th anniversary of the International Folk Art Market July 12-14.  The money they earn will preserve important cultural traditions worldwide and it also offers a stepping stone to economic independence. Many artists find their way to the market through nonprofit groups that help them build their networks and open up new markets.


Jewelry made from ostrich eggshells are among the crafts that will be showcased by the Omba Arts Trust from Namibia at the International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe.
Credit Omba Arts Trust and International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe


The Bushmen of Namibia have inhabited southern Africa for more than 30,000 years. As traditional hunter gatherers, they face many challenges in maintaining traditions, including extermination campaigns. The Omba Arts Trust works with various groups to preserve their cultural traditions and support themselves through craft.


My name is Karin LeRoux. I'm from Namibia and I run a nonprofit trust called the Omba Arts Trust.

The artists I'm representing are Ju/'Hoan Bushmen and they are making beaded art works and jewelry made from ostrich egg shell. Then I'm representing artist from the Kavango region who make baskets from palm and using natural dyes

The first group of women we worked with were elderly women who still retained the skills and made baskets for harvesting and gathering in the fields. Twenty years later we have 250 to 350 women as young as 17 or 18. Many girls in rural regions drop out of school and we're finding they see craft-making as a possible source of income

Similarly in areas where bushmen women live, there are about 200 women now making bead work using ostrich egg shell so that certainly sustains a 40,000-year tradition. Some women have built put on corrugated roofs for their homesteads. One elderly San Bushmen woman told me proudly she opened a savings account and she had 300 Namibian dollars she had put into her savings account. That's probably the first time ever a woman in her community has a savings account. Others buy shoes, buy clothes, pay off debts for school fees. It's just wonderful seeing rural women, who don't get world perspective of themselves, just connecting with other market artists, getting a feel for themselves in the context of the world.



Poetic Threads of Pakistan works with artisans to help them earn a living through traditional craft, especially after the devastating floods in 2010 that left nearly one third of the country under water. Traditionally, Hazara women would bring their embroidered linens to their husband’s home upon marriage, according to the Folk Art Market. But now the embroidery work has become a means for many women and girls to support their families and encourage local economic development.


My name is Marisa Rufe. I'm the creative director of Poetic Threads of Pakistan based in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, which is bordering Afghanistan.

This year we had four artists accepted. The one I'm most passionate about is the women from Swat Valley, who do the most amazing hand embroidery. For years the Swat Valley was under attack and under Sharia law. Everyone was displaced and living in refugee camps in Peshawar. And when they were finally allowed back in 2010, the flood hit.

Very few women actually work outside the home, maybe two out of 100. It's just very empowering for the women to have something to do and to have their art work appreciated domestically as well as internationally.

In Islamic culture and society, when women and girls have earning power they have more respect in the family and in the community. And in Islam they are permitted to keep the money they earn, and when they're more vocal, more respected, more part of the decision making in the home in the community, it gives them more value.