Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Arts as Business

Monday night I went to an event called The Magic of Tanzania, a glorious celebration of the artwork of a group of women artists from Tanzania, all eager to sell some of their wares. It was an outstanding evening, highlighted by an incredible style show of creations by fashion designer, Fatma Amor. See for details of this exchange program.

This article from the New York Times reports the problems artists and crafts people in Vietnam are having as the market for their craft work has plummeted thanks to the worldwide recession:

FOREIGN DESK September 29, 2009
Rural Ventures in Vietnam Suffer in the Global Crisis By SETH MYDANS
"Looking out across his green rice fields, Nguyen Van Truong can take pride in hedging his bets when he joined the global marketplace more than a decade ago and began to make money. When Vietnam began a tentative engagement with the world economy in the mid-1990s, Mr. Truong was one of the first people to see profit in his local craft, embroidery, and he joined with other villagers in marketing it for export and domestic sales."

The point is that arts and crafts can be good business in prosperous times, but they are the subject of highly discretionary spending, so you can't always count on such sources of income.

Another thought - from Organic Consumers Association:

World Food Day - Organic Is the Answer to Food Security
"Organic agriculture puts the needs of rural people and the sustainable use of natural resources at the centre of the farming system. Locally adapted technologies create employment opportunities and income. Low external inputs minimize risk of indebtedness and intoxication of the environment. It increases harvests through practices that favor the optimization of biological processes and local resources over expensive, toxic and climate damaging response to a frequently asked question: Yes, the world can be fed by the worldwide adoption of Organic agriculture. The slightly lower yields of Organic agriculture in favorable, temperate zones are compensated with approximately 10-20% higher yields in difficult environments such as arid areas."
-International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements World Food Day, October 12, 2009 LEARN MORE

What is the connection here? If you have an arts and crafts business you need a back up plan. In Vietnam, those who retained land on which to grow their food survived, because they were self-sufficient and could feed themselves. When I was visiting in Dodoma, Tanzania, a few years ago, I was struck by how often people raised some of their own food - a vegetable garden, banana & papaya trees, and a few animals - goats, chickens. Those folks knew they couldn't rely on their meager salaries or small businesses for all their needs. The article from OCA emphasizes how essential these small farming operations are to relieving poverty and hunger around the world. Items of beauty add richness and depth to our lives, and can be a source of wealth for producers, but we dare not forget that the foundation of prosperous communities are the gifts of the earth that feed and clothe and house us. When people are pushed off their land by big corporations and the purported "efficiencies" of commercial agriculture and the "Green Revolution," poverty and hunger invariably increase for many, while untold riches accrue to some. Justice is not served.

For more on this on this theme I recommend this book, "Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice" found here:

Footnote: Agricultural yields with sophisticated eco-farming methods can be just as productive as conventional agriculture, while protecting the environment, supplying more nutritious foods, and avoiding the need for pesticides. Check with these agricultural consultants, and especially