It’s almost clichÃ© now to say that the pandemic has hit people hard, often those who can least afford it.
These include Mexican artisans, whose centuries-old traditions today depend on the tourism industry and the festival calendar. Who knows when the festivals will resume and when people will decide it’s safe?
To make matters worse, the past few months have shown just how useless Mexican craft institutions can be. Museums and government cultural agencies have either closed their doors completely or are functioning only sufficiently to justify their own existence.
Fortunately, help has come from individuals and organizations who care about those who create beautiful works of wood, clay, leather, metals and more in some of the poorest parts of the country.
Although there was a desire to help with the immediate needs of food and rental money during the first few weeks, the truth was that the only people who could help the artisans were family members (sometimes ) and organizations dedicated to these needs for the general public.
But aid targeting artisans has started to materialize. The first were simple fundraisers such as a GoFundMe by craft collector Alan Goldberg and a fundraiser by Los Amigos de Arte Popular, each raising US $ 20,000. One of the first very notable efforts was the 5 million pesos spent by the Alfredo HelÃº Foundation to buy handicrafts for 156 families in Oaxaca and other states.
Soon after, it seemed like everyone, craftsman or not, was making novelty face masks as they are one of the few products that sell.
As Goldberg noted in an interview, such efforts are just a “band-aid”. The basic problem is that artisans have no way of selling because they are almost entirely dependent on the tourist market and sell to middlemen who are themselves often beholden to tourism. Mexican artisans have not been very familiar with the Internet, although much better prices can often be found outside Mexico than inside.
Over the months, efforts began to shift to longer term solutions, almost all of which were internet related. by Goldberg GoFundMe transformed into a Covid-19 themed art competition, displaying the entry online.
The Friends of Folk Art of Oaxaca (FOFA), based in New York, do something similar. They have offered grants to past winners of previous competitions to create pandemic-related pieces, which have been exhibited online on their Instagram page. Many have sold the exhibits, although FOFA does not directly intervene in the sales.
La Feria Maestros de Arte is an organization that for 20 years has focused on organizing one of the best Mexican craft fairs in Chapala, Jalisco. With such a narrow focus, the cancellation of the November 2020 event was almost an existential crisis. Worried about how the artists accepted this year would fare, they tried their hand at selling online.
Inspired by Stephanie Schneiderman’s Six Week Business Plan called the Tuesday Textile Tianguis, they set up a weekly sale on Facebook called the Monday Bazaar. Sales were good in the first three weeks, but have since fallen considerably. They are experimenting with ways to engage the public to attract customers.
Another sales effort is a collaboration between a welfare company created for the pandemic, Ayuda Mutua CDMX, and Red de Artesanos AnÃ¡huac, a Mexican organization that promotes the work of artisans based in Mexico City. Ayuda Mutua previously had an artwork sale on their website, which has helped some artists sell and fundraise for their food basket program.
The craft version is called the CDMX solidarity market with pages in English and Spanish. After the run on Ayuda Mutua’s website, Red de Artesanos plans to move the developed pages and checkout processes to their own site for further development.
Goldberg is also developing a website with the aim of giving artisans a place online to reach national and international markets, which should be ready by the end of the year.
Thinking even more in the long term, FOFA decided to offer online courses and mentoring in online marketing and sales primarily targeting young artisans in Oaxaca. The idea here is to give individual artisans the tools to create their own online presence, not only by teaching how technologies work, but by asking marketing experts to help them develop their branding, their service. client, etc. So far, half of the trained artisans have been able to sell at least one piece in the United States.
The transition to online sales is a struggle for both craftsmen and projects. Those who seem to get away with it out of hand have taken advantage of online audiences they’ve already cultivated. Schneiderman said her initiative generated around 800,000 pesos in sales to artisans in Mexico in just seven weeks by capitalizing on the audience she had for her tours.
It’s a similar story for FOFA and Ayuda Mutua. However, for those who are starting from scratch, the transition to selling online is still an ongoing struggle.
Experimenting with online marketing is a milestone for the craft industry in Mexico. It is not easy neither for the craftsmen nor for the organizations because there is so much work before a profit is perceived. However, with travel still not recommended by most experts, these efforts allow those of us who love Mexico to support its hard workers.
Leigh Themadatter came to Mexico 17 years ago and fell in love with the land and the culture. She publishes a blog called Creative hands from Mexico and his first book, Mexican cardboard: paper, paste and fiesta, was released last year. His cultural blog appears every week on Mexico Daily News.