To paraphase Charles Dickens, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of people.” This year has brought challenges that never figured into most of our worst-case scenarios. Pandemic, lock-downs, and, for some, loss of contact, financial security, or loved ones. Yet, through it all, the ATA community has remained steadfast in its commitment to support Andean weavers in preserving their textile traditions and their sustainable way of life. And the Andean communities, in turn, have been brave and creative in helping themselves to weather this storm.
Last spring, as the coronavirus took hold worldwide, tourism shut down and Peruvians were told to isolate at home. The quarantine cut off income for the weavers and sales that support the work of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC). The ATA board quickly donated $5,000 in matching funds and sent out an appeal to help provide COVID relief. The ATA community responded with enthusiasm, donating over $22,000. The board used part of the money to purchase products from CTTC, giving the weavers immediate income. Some of the funds have also helped pay salaries for essential CTTC staff so that they can continue working with the weavers on strategies to weather the pandemic. The most significant results of these efforts has been a new on-line store that extends the center’s sales reach worldwide, helping ensure that the weavers will continue to have income despite future fluctuations in tourism.
Over the summer, as donations continued to flow into ATA, the coronavirus reached the high mountain villages, as businesses shut down and weavers’ family members returned home from jobs in the cities. Some weaving communities were also facing food insecurity. While food aid is normally outside of ATA’s mission, we recognized that people cannot weave if they can’t eat. So, we sent some of the donated funds to help communities in need buy seeds for crops from communities that had a surplus, providing both food and income to the weavers.
To raise more funds for these efforts, we tried something completely new to ATA: an online auction featuring some textiles purchased from CTTC and a number of collectible and very unusual Andean textiles donated by ATA donors, friends, and board members. The auction items also included money for phone cards to help Andean children attend school remotely because, for many, their parents’ cell phones now provide their only access to education. The auction ran for a week in late August. The bidding was fierce and fun, every lovely item sold, and we raised over $26,000, including almost $3,000 in cell phone cards to send the kids to school.
The weavers and CTTC were also busy over the summer. As the center’s staff were developing the new online store, the weavers were using their quarantine time to prepare new fields for planting and to improve their homes, just as many of us did in the U.S. and elsewhere. Except, instead of waiting in long lines at their local home improvement store, the weavers helped each other clear fields and make bricks, in the ancient Andean system of reciprocity known as ayni. They were also busy weaving new products for the ATA holiday pop-up store, including project and spindle bags made exclusively for us. (Please visit to find lovely gifts for your friends and family while providing income to the weavers!)
2020 has set a lot of records so far: the virus, fires, hurricanes, etc. But it has also been a record year of people helping people, and certainly the most successful fundraising year ever for ATA, despite the fact that we had to postpone our benefit tours to Peru and Bolivia.
If the ATA board could get together in person right now, you would hear our thunderous applause for you, wherever you are in the world. We cannot express our overwhelming gratitude for everyone who donated money, textiles, and/or time. More than ever before, your good will has changed lives. The need has been great, but your generosity has been greater!
Con sincero y humilde agradecimiento (with sincere and humble thanks),
The board and volunteers of Andean Textile Arts
Lead photo courtesy of Andrew Holman.