Artists with the Omba Arts Trust in Namibia shape delicate beads out of shards from ostrich eggshells, following a practice that has been passed along from generation to generation for 200 centuries.
The legacy of this artistic expression, and the traditional art forms of many rural cultures in the world, has been extended with the help of twenty-first century business practices. The International Folk Art Alliance’s (IFAA) Mentor to Market Artist Training Programs reinforce IFAA’s work by fostering traditional artists’ business skills so they can become cultural entrepreneurs. To date we have provided training and support to 930 artists and their representatives, including groups like Omba Arts Trust.
More than 90 percent of artists who participate in IFAA’s International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe come from developing countries with per capita annual income as low as $250. Folk artists hoping to develop a livelihood from their art face limited sales venues, cultural bias in home countries where folk art is undervalued, socioeconomic barriers, and limited access to business expertise and resources. The Mentor to Market Artist Training Programs remove some of those barriers by providing access to knowledge and resources that help artists position their businesses to be market-ready for export.
The Omba Arts Trust begins the work by teaching rural artists, many of whom have very limited educational opportunities, to manage some administrative processes and by providing markets through two small retail outlets and exporting to other countries.
Artists from the group who sell at International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe have participated in Mentor to Market’s “Preparing For Your First Market” in past years. Held during the week of the Market, the five-year-old program aims to provide up to 95 percent of first-time Market artists with introductory training that covers topics including pricing and costing, booth display, and customer service. Artists leave the training with the basic tools needed to be successful in the Market and after.
The initial training dovetails with the experience artists gain by selling in the Market. Some master folk artists, including members of the Omba Arts Trust, also are selected by IFAA to sell to wholesale buyers through the International Folk Art Market | Collection at the Dallas Market Center.
Prior to attending the market in Dallas, artists learn skills needed to select an export collection, price it and fulfill orders for it. Since first participating in Dallas, Omba’s wholesale business has grown by 100%, surpassing its retail operation.
A third market – this time a virtual one – was launched in September 2014 International Folk Art Market | Online (ifamonline.org) serves as a learning lab for the 5,150 artists whose work is represented through the online store for 19 artists and cooperatives in 17 countries. The site gives artists a platform to display and market their products year-round to an international community, expanding their skills in pricing, merchandising, and financial resource management. The beautiful eggshell beadwork and elaborately designed geometric bracelets from Omba’s artists can be seen on Omba Arts Trust’s page.
Beginning in 2015, IFAA will offer an intermediate training to Market alumni who are interested in diversifying their business skills and increasing opportunities in the global marketplace. Artists participating in this training will learn to identify and evaluate new market opportunities to reach U.S. consumers and buyers and the investment needed for these markets.
With their earnings, nearly $200,000 over six years, Omba artists have improved their livelihoods, health, and nutrition, and strengthened their self-confidence. In the words of Director Karin Le Roux, “Jobs, food on the table, healthy children, and confident adults: This is Omba.”
While claims of intangible improvements are noteworthy, with any business venture, the proof is in the bottom line. So here’s the tangible proof: Since it first participated in the Market in 2009, sales by Omba’s artists have more than tripled.
Watch the video below to learn more about Omba Arts Trust.
This video was created in 2013 and provided to IFAA by Tiffany Franke and is being used with her permission. Figures quoted in the video may now be out of date.