The right to a livelihood is denied to millions of the world's poorest. Among those living in abject poverty are artisans in India. Their centuries-old means of earning a living has been shattered by modernisation and industrialisation. India's Artisans Status Report states: Today most of India's artisans are struggling for survival. Many have given up and moved away from their traditional occupations. Others cling on desperately not knowing what else to do or to whom to turn. Their skills, evolved over thousands of years, are being dissipated and blunted. Their progeny are not willing or able to carry on the family tradition, and a rich culture is on the verge of extinction. (Satyanand & Singh, 1995, p.1).
Strengthening the economic viability of craft communities is important to the sustainability of artisan livelihoods. This is a matter of survival for artisans. It is also necessary for the preservation of the world's cultural diversity. Interventions based on the modernisation paradigm, and its narrow economic criteria of material progress, are not likely to create viable craft producing groups. This paper argues that there are other criteria by which the value of artisan activity can be framed. A more inclusive and holistic framework, congruent with an emerging paradigm of sustainable rural development (Shepherd, 1998), has potential to support the dignity and autonomy of artisans, the continuity of indigenous knowledge and cultural diversity, and the sustainability of local economies and communities.