The Viability of Heritage Craft in a Global Marketplace: Four Case Studies in Portugal, 2019

The Viability of Heritage Craft in a Global Marketplace: Four Case Studies in Portugal, 2019

Nuno Martins (Polytechnic Institute of Cavado and Ave, Portugal & ID+, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Porto, Portugal), Heitor Alvelos (University of Porto, Portugal), Susana Barreto (University of Porto, Portugal), Abhishek Chatterjee (University of Porto, Portugal), Eliana Penedos-Santiago (University of Porto, Portugal), Cláudia Lima (Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Porto & Universidade Lusófona, Portugal) and Sara Alexandra Silva (Polytechnic Institute of Cávado and Ave, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3628-5.ch017
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Portugal has a rich and diverse culture of artisanal arts and crafts, embodying significant symbolic and historical value. However, due to factors such as resource limitations, apathy from younger generations, and a growing incompatibility with the digital world, many age-old industrial techniques, traditions, and practices are ebbing away. In response, Anti-Amnesia, a design research intervention, intends to contribute to the revitalization of such artisanal heritage through leveraging digital technology as a means for dissemination and monetization. In particular, a component of the project is dedicated to the development of an online premise catering to the needs of the craft sector, including an embedded marketplace. This virtual market consists of a platform that functions as a commercial intermediary, where vendors are allotted a space and a set of tools to support publicity and sale of their products. This chapter discusses the feasibility of implementing the proposed output in relation to market research conducted and the inceptive outcomes accomplished.
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Modern-day manufacturing is often defined by its fundamental integration with digital technology and systematization. Digital products and services, automated process flows, managerial tools, and web-based channels of communication are among numerous advancements that offer modernized producers with unprecedented scope for expansion and outreach.

However, for those traditional industries that rely strictly on manual skills and people-centric systems, their involuntary objectivity with new paradigms poses a threat of inducing recession-like conditions, compromising livelihoods, devaluing identities and legacies, and nullifying specialized knowledge at times built upon centuries of dedicated practice.

Towards developing a process of mitigation, it is thus imperative to introduce the opportunities presented by the modern digital realm to the associated practice communities in a manner that does not discredit their unique identities or disrupt workflows. The leading idea, in this respect, has been to create and implement a digital medium based on established principles of interaction that can help craft communities showcase their products to a global audience, and thereby effectively extend their market base.

An evidence regarding a typical craft community’s openness to adapt to newer paradigms, and maintain resonance with a younger demographic was attained from observing an interactive workshop between artisans and design students, which was held at the Polytechnic Institute of Cavado and Ave in March 2019. The artisans were representing an 11th Century handweaving practice named Almalaguês from central Portugal, which derived much enthusiasm from the participating students to learn more about the heritage craft.

Figure 1.

Interactive workshop between artisans and design students

Source: Self source, 2018.

Despite its enduring identity as a traditional technique, the craft of Almalaguês has kept innovating in terms of design elements and product offerings in order to attract newer generations of buyers, and the incorporation of these subtle changes has conceivably taken place over the entirety of its existence without compromising on the technique’s originality.

This reflection has provided the starting premise for contemplating a ‘space’ where such rare and unique practices can be showcased. In contemporary culture, where mass production and consumption are the unfortunate norms, craft practices can provide a refreshing return to times of simplicity and manuality, and now, it is crucial to adapt and promote its embedded positives through various contexts of contemporary design.

Respectively, the growing tourism sector in Portugal is among the major contributor to the continuous demand for local and handmade goods, alongside an emerging trend of ethical consumerism. In the upcoming years, a significant evolution of this area is foreseen, allying design and technology to enhance the potential of manual manufacturing (Rocha, 2015).

Such evolution will be aided and abetted by new sectors of production, artistic creation, and funding. Design practices and new technology can, thus, play a critical role as agents of mediation, towards proposing viability alternatives which can help preserve the authenticity of handicrafts and ensure a fair income for communities of practice (Rocha, 2015).

Despite existence of such possibilities, the greater challenge for mediators lies in encouraging artisans to make the gradual transition from a predominantly manual practice context, and incorporate modern processes in their traditional workflows. Therefore, this chapter proposes to showcase how a digital marketplace platform can be both a tactical and conveniently implementable resolution, which can promote the various affordances of new technology to traditional makers, and help sustain their handcrafted practice in the digital era.

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