On May 12, 2016, participants gathered at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC for a symposium on Cultural Sustainability in the Age of Globalization. Hosted by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the event convened leaders and innovators working to sustain local artistic practices and cultural identities.
Participants spanned the Americas, Bhutan, and Benin. They included Goucher College professors, members of the Southwest Folklife Alliance and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Alliance for Artisan Enterprise members Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco and the Self-Employed Women's Association, and singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo.
The Queen Mother of Bhutan, founder of the Royal Textile Academy, launched the Symposium by introducing "Gross National Happiness," or "development with values." She sees the national arts as living arts; to preserve those arts through the future, we must take advantage of the opportunities provided by globalization. Her message was echoed by Professor Amy Skillman and Angelique Kidjo: we need to accept the diversity of culture that exists in this world, be proud of it, and fight for it. Respect for culture flows from understanding and preserving the traditions of our ancestors. We cannot escape culture, but we can work together to preserve its techniques and respect its diversity.
These issues reach societies across the globe, from major cities in Arizona to indigenous villages in the Andes of Peru. Without recognition and appreciation for cultural heritage, traditions are lost. Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez founded the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco to ensure the weaving techniques of her ancestors would not disappear. She recognizes both the inherent beauty of the ancient practices, and its economic potential. Through the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, Nilda both archives traditional weaving techniques and provides stable employment for women and families. Reema Nanavaty, Director of Economic and Rural Empowerment for the Self-Employed Women's Association in India, finds similar economic value in traditional crafts. Many craftspeople, especially women, participate in the informal sector. Their handiwork is not recognized as "work." To achieve recognition in society, these traditions must be organized as real work with real value.
People around the world must recognize the power of culture and traditional arts. Increased access to information, markets, the Internet, and other opportunities can serve those cultures. Together, educational bodies like the Smithsonian, businesses like the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, and today's musicians and artists can work in harmony to both preserve traditional arts, and keep their spirit alive. Failure to act, however, may result in the disappearance of ancient practices forever.
"It touches everybody. That is the power of culture." (Angelique Kidjo).
Learn more about the Symposium from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage: http://www.folklife.si.edu/news-and-events/symposium-cultural-sustainability-in-the-age-of-globalization. Photos by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco and the Self-Employed Women's Association