A (UN) CERTAIN FUTURE; Strategy for Re-Building Craft Sector post Pandemic

Keynote  Address by Dr. Ghada Hijjawi-Qaddumi, President, World Craft Council-Asia Pacific Region on the occasion of India Craft Week-Digital Edition, May 1-3, 2020

I would like to start my address with consoling those who have lost loved ones during the
Coronavirus crisis, and say that this invasive dilemma hits us all, though in different degrees.

In my capacity as President of WCC-Asia Pacific Region (WCC-APR), I have to mention that the World Crafts Council was established with the objective to provide a better future to the craftspeople in the world. The members of the organization have been working in this line for more than half a century and designing policies, strategies and programmes in this effect. WCC-APR was in the frontline in offering aid to those artisans hit by natural disasters such as: the earthquake in Nepal, the Tsunami in Indonesia and the Bushfire in Australia. In such cases the damage was restricted to one area in the Globe but with the present prevailing disaster of COVID-19 all the world is suffering from facing this unseen foe.

Under the current circumstances of such Global dilemma of the COVID-19, I would like to say that despite the gloomy cloud hovering over our heads and permeating our daily lives, and despite the anxiety that many of us feel about personal and family’s health and well being, yet all of us are anxious and looking forward to the time when this pandemic will leave us, with the least of loss, in peace. But, unfortunately the near future does not look very bright. Yet, with solidarity, determination and belief in ourselves, together we can take the challenge and plunge into putting an end to its bad repercussions. By working together in these challenging times, preparing ourselves for the post era of COVID-19, we continue to exercise our potential and to set plans and necessary strategies to bring forward workable ideas to help sustain the survival of the sector so as to come out of the crisis strong enough to build a more fortified invisible future.

We are all in this crisis together and must rally to help those in need. For the time being we are living the present moments thinking of the basic needs: food and medicine, yet we have to look at the present situation of this pandemic as an alarming sign to learn from for future planning. We have to see ourselves in post-COVID-19 World and look for several constructive approaches that rescue us from falling into the pit of despair, and that befit the foreseen economic relapse. We have to be connected and draw strength from one another in this difficult time. The lockdown gave us time to plan for what will be of value in the time to come, and to start thinking of building a more sustainable future.

The Asia Pacific Region members have been working, each in his respective country, to do the best they can for the artisans. In the Board’s last meeting, March 27, 2020, the great impact of the crisis on the craftspeople was discussed, ideas and immediate and practical solutions were shared among the members to help in the lockdown situation. For example, Dr.Kevin Murray, from Australia, said that in Australia the World Crafts Council and other organizations are currently looking at offering a portal to assist craftspeople to sell their products online. Mr.Edric Ong, from Malaysia, suggested to connect with artisans through Skype or Whatsapp, etc. to prepare product s for markets when they open. Mr.Aziz Murtazaev, from Uzbekistan, suggested online training.

I am pleased to say that Mr.Indrasen Vencatachellum, who is one of the advisors on the APR Board, a renowned figure in the field of crafts who was in charge of the UNESCO crafts department for around 30 years where he had the opportunity to have contact with many craft sectors around the world, sent me an email in which he highlighted a number of measures to help the craft sector. He also opened our eyes on negative harmful disasters that might face the craft sector, one of which is the free circulation of cheap, imported products. He also highlighted the harsh impending reality of the economic depression in the post COVID-19 period where high-end crafts may take a long time to recover as consumers will have less financial resources. On the other hand, he advised that we should reflect on the following:
1. What the future business of crafts and artisans is to be,
2. What options we have to create,
3. What are the threats we can foresee,
4. What are the opportunities in terms of products selection or diversification,
5. and What we can see in the market supply and demand.

In this occasion, I would like to thank Mr.Ashoke Chatterjee, a friend of Asia Pacific Region, who was kind enough to share his views about the issues and to provide us with information about the initiatives taken by a large number of organizations in India, each addressing the crisis in a different way. Asia Pacific Region is proud to say that some of them are members of the WCC-Asia Pacific Region, namely the Crafts Council of India, in Chennai; the Craft Revival Trust and the Asia Heritage Foundation, in Delhi; and the Indian Institute of Crafts & Design, in Jaipur, and of course the Craft Village, in Delhi, which is organizing this India Craft Week (ICW) Digital Definition, in which they gave us the chance to meet virtually to discuss different aspects of the crisis.

It is also worth to mention suggestions from members of APR, one of which is that by Ms.Ritu Sethi, Director of the Craft Revival Trust who requested in an email that APR contributes in organizing a series of seminars and exhibitions on some common threads that would bring us all together. Usually APR events incorporate exhibitions, forums, seminars, fashion shows, etc.

The APR’s immediate contribution to the sector would be best initiated at the forthcoming and closest congregational event, that is the Asia Pacific Region General Assembly to be hopefully held November/December 2020 in Tashkent-Uzbekistan. Through organizing a Symposium and Exhibition the General Assembly will act as a campaign for delineating policies to save and sustain the craft sector, as well as a platform to provide aid to the artisans.

The Symposium will tackle the post COVID-19 situation of the craftspeople and the crafts
sector. Experts in the field of crafts, economists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals to be
invited to express and share their insight, on the problems the craft sector will face, in the post Coronavirus period, such as the economic depression, the drop in demand for high-end crafts, the decline in the Tourism sector due to the people’s refrain from travel, and the closed boarders of some countries, as well as some other important issues.

The Exhibition, on the other hand, will inject artisans with energy and high spirit when they look forward to an event that will sell their accumulated products and promote  their creative production in such a gloomy situation with livelihood concern and lockdown limitation. The Exhibition will give them hope and something to look forward to. An optimistic attitude in such gloomy circumstances is needed to overcome the agony and transcend it.

The programme will most probably include, a “Special Exhibition” for creative pieces produced by the artisans during the lockdown period. A space of extra free time and shortage of raw materials must have urged them to innovate and create outstanding pieces.

However, we have to consider a number of measures to be taken in the present and Post
COVID-19, crisis such as:
1. To form teams of volunteers to outreach artisans and help in responding to their needs such as providing them with raw materials;
2. To help those who lack the knowledge of selling their products online by e-commerce.
3. To establish partnerships with entrepreneurs, corporate business, economists, etc.
4. To approach government authorities to convince or put pressure on them to support the crafts sector and acknowledge the craftspeople as art creators.

To conclude, I would like to say that by the time we leave the present situation of the Coronavirus crisis, and enter the Post Coronavirus period, our lifestyle, our priorities and perhaps our attitudes to life will be changed. The whole world will also be changed. Therefore, we have to prepare ourselves for such changes and try to cope with them accordingly.

Last but not least, we must pay special homage to all our members and other crafts organizations around the world who are in the frontline, and to express our thanks and appreciation to the Craft Village and its supporters for this commendable, innovative endeavor of connecting us all in a virtual meeting.

Thank you,
Dr.Ghada Hijjawi-Qaddumi
President of WCC-Asia Pacific Region (2013-2020)
May 1, 2020

Other Keynote Dignitaries;

Barbara Wickham OBE
Director, British Council (INDIA)

Jonathan Kennedy
Director Arts, British Council (INDIA)

Moderator- Iti Tyagi
Founder, Craft Village & India Craft Week (INDIA)

INDIA CRAFT WEEK

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