“We women have dreams . . . ”

Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Director of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, and her sister, master weaver Adela Callañaupa, traveled from the Andes to San Francisco to attend the TEDWomen conference in late October 2016. Sponsored by the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise (AAE), Nilda spoke at the TEDWomen’s Global Showcase as one of three global artisan speakers.  

The Aspen Institute started in a small way in 1949, but today is a major player in a number of arenas, including supporting and hosting The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise.

Peggy Clark, Director of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and Vice President of  Aspen Global Health and Development, worked with TEDWomen to bring twelve artisans to TED. The Alliance, its partners, and members “envision a world in which artisans are fully integrated in global commerce and where increasing revenues flow to artisan producers in communities in need of economic opportunity.” These ideals linked supremely well with the TED theme of “It’s About Time.”  Global Artisans such as the Center for Traditional Textiles need greater opportunities for global commerce. The Alliance, launched in 2012 by Hillary Clinton, recognizes the enormity of the fact that worldwide, artisans are the second largest employer (after agriculture) and account for $32 billion in annual sales. This is the larger picture that zooms down to the fact that artisanship is not generally seen as an economically viable pursuit.

Nilda’s speech to nearly 900 people, as well as the presence of eleven other artisan groups, is part of an effort to change that picture and bring both attention and opportunity to artisans at the ground level.

The beauty of the mission of the AAE for artisans like Nilda and the CTTC is the that it goes beyond a focus on generating commerce and income; it focuses equally on retaining and enhancing cultural heritage.  Whatever development occurs must respect the lives and unique cultures of the artisans and their communities. 

Reflecting this, Nilda spoke about her own work, beginning with the official opening of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco in 1996. Her focus was on her dream of the revival of Andean textile traditions going back more than 2000 years. She spoke of the changes of attitude from a time of great discrimination and a fear of even wearing one’s traditional clothing to the present day when the strength of identity and textile culture has returned, changing the face of Peru.

Nilda expressed her strong inspiration from these twenty-plus years and the passion she feels working with the weavers of CTTC. CTTC now has centers in ten communities, assisting more than 600 weavers directly (of whom 96 percent are women), and 2000 people indirectly. Nilda sees this as a time for the next challenge in her vision, creating and growing a new Center in the Sacred Valley of the Incas to support and represent the weavers of the Andes.

Nilda closed her speech by saying that, “We women have dreams. We can create great change benefitting our cultures, starting here at TEDWomen.”  As she spoke, there was inspiration and a sense of power in the room emanating from all 900 participants.  It is hoped that this power will energize and move forward towards not only Nilda’s and the CTTC’s dreams and goals, but also those of other artisans and cultures around the world.

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