New Cuenca crafts cooperative could be a model for crafts artisans throughout Latin America

Nov 20, 2020 | 10 comments

By Robert Bradley

In 1973, the Organization of American States (OEA), created to address social and financial inequality in the Americas, designated Cuenca as the headquarters for its efforts to promote artisan crafts. Five years later, the Centro Interamericano de Artesanías y Artes Populares (CIDAP), or Inter-American Center for Popular Crafts and Arts, was established.

Woven copper baskets on display at Anyi.

The goal of CIDAP, located on Paso Tres de Noviembre at the Hermano Miguel escalinata, was to promote crafts and to create new markets for artisans, many of whom struggled economically to practice their traditional trades.

In 1992, the Jardin Azuayo Co-op, a funding and educational agency designed to assist artisans was established under the direction of CIDAP. In turn, Ecuador’s Casa de la Cultura was founded to be the liaison between artisans, the OEA and government organizations that promoted the arts.

Two weeks ago, the arts cooperative, Anyi, a translation of the word “reciprocity,” or “working together,” in Quechua, opened its doors at Luis Cordero and Presidente. Cordova, next door to Cuenca’s Case de la Cultura theater.

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Paul Calle, the co-op manager of Anyi, was quick to distinguish the difference between a gallery and the cooperative space.  “The first 14 artisans chosen by CIDAP for the co-op will be the governing body to select and promote artisans in Azuay Province and the surrounding region,” he said. “I anticipate the number of participants will grow and hope to have 20 or more by year’s end.”

Sombreros de paja toquilla, the hats that made Cuenca — and Panama — famous.

He added, “Ayni will also serve as a template for other cities to establish crafts co-ops to present local artisans to Latin America and the rest of the world.” It is an ambitious project including website development, coordination with participant’s interests and the creation of marketing strategies.

“Artisans have always had to fight for recognition, and parity with other artists,” Calle continued. “Their contribution to furthering cultural expression has long been overlooked and now is the time to address issues that have kept us apart and to join together in a common cause.”

“The importance of artisans cannot be minimized,” he says. “It is the artisan who personifies the importance of the human touch that is central to craft. It allows the purchasers to hold in their hands personally made works of art, ‘obras de arte,’ that represent a long and proud tradition.”

Bolstering Anyi’s mission, Cuenca has recently been designated a Ciudad Mundial de la Artesanía (World City of Crafts) by the World Crafts Council (WCC – Consejo Mundial de Artesanías). The city was recognized for its paja toquilla (toquilla straw) hats, goldsmithing, pottery, ceramics, baskets, forged iron, embroidery, saddle making, tinsmithing, wood, marble, stonework, and pyrotechnics. One particularity is that the majority of these skills have been transmitted through crafts families for generations.

Current Anyi members offer artifacts on display in a variety of mediums from basketry to copperwork.

For additional information about Anyi, please contact, Paul Calle, coopaynil@gmail or call 099-399-8269.

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