Poonam Bir Kasturi responds to John Ballyn’s Training for artisans

Skilling, Training, Professional Devt.

Poonam Bir Kasturi responds to John Ballyn’s Training for artisans

Kasturi, Poonam Bir


I have met John many years ago and I know of the work he has done in this sector. I feel that his article “Training for artisans – blending the market-led approach with tradition, sustainability and environmental issues” covers the areas my article did not pay attention to. And for that I am grateful to him for articulating the specifics that come under what we all talk about when we use the word “market-led”.

I like the sub-heads he has used:

  • Pricing Policies

  • Shopping Habits

  • Fashion Trends and Product Conformity

  • Volume Production

  • Consumer’s lack of Knowledge

  • Difficult Days

  • Holding their own – knowing your enemy

(The last particularly is so telling – why do so many of the people who work in craft see “the market led trade” as the enemy?)

In India, we are going to have more people working in the area of craft, there has been a build up of interest in this area that is different from the interest of the government led initiatives. And while this will happen in a fluid dynamic way, I am going to use this platform for some wild thinking of the possibilities. And I take my inspiration from what is happening in the world of technology – the open-source, gaming, story-telling and hacking.

Q1. Is there a fresh way of including the younger generation into some of the sustainability values using a tried “market-led approach”?
Because I work with the age group of 18 – 25 on a daily basis, I see their search for meaning and feelings of isolation as a growing area of concern. And as societies grow more affluent we realize that there is great value in the act of “doing” with the hand. So I suggest we shift from “retail of craft” to “retail of craft processes”. In Bangalore thanks to Kurien we have milk available in booths and so too our vegetables and also our toilets thanks to Infosys. Can our city planners incorporate our “doing” boothspace? What can this space provide? In the urban environment what can it cater to? How can the pricing, trends and consumer knowledge be dealt with in this model? These are the questions we must speculate about as a community interested in the ideas of craft, craftsmanship and craftspersons. My hunch is that this will happen, eventually, there seems to be no other way out for the urban animal. As a designer I am excited about the blueprint and would like to see a model begin with a specific consumer group in mind. I am biased to the young urban 18-25 year old (the one John says favours baseball caps!)
I had proposed something like this 4 years ago to a NGO and they could not see the connections. I am not an activist – at heart I am more a humanist so the conversation did not go further.

Q2. How can traditional craft communities begin thinking of fresh ways of intersecting with markets?
John mentions how different organizations like Traidcraft etc have worked on this area. They have created material and for me this is the “cope” process. My hunch is that we need to move out of “cope” to “co-opt” also. Both are needed if traditional communities with tacit knowledge need to create new alternatives for survival and evolution. These communities need market knowledge with a healthy knowledge of other ideas and their training needs to be focused on making connections of ideas in addition to learning skills. To make this a reality, service and NGO organizations need to foster this culture and hand-hold traditional communities- because otherwise it can be a real scary process. I draw hope from the fact that more professionals are willing to partner in processes like these and I think that new forums will evolve sooner than later. So the point is can this be also done through selling this idea to the venture capitalists as a viable business model. Like the Aptech or NIIT schools, can we have schools that energise, foster connections, creativity and doing – which both supports and draws on traditional community knowledge.

I stay clear of funding agencies and government projects – my instinct pushes me to autonomy, and I think that in some way I retain my foolishness.

So these ideas must be seen against that light. I can be faulted for not busying myself with doing – but there is another story there which connects with John’s last paragraphs on spirituality. This I will not go into at this point.

So thanks John for being the catalyst to get me to pen these thoughts down and I must tell you that I still show your drawings as great samples to my students.

Thanks CRT too, for providing me this forum to talk to my fellow crafts interested folk.

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