How the local becomes global


25 March 2023

Fernando Laposse, Totomoxtle

Whilst technical advances and globalisation have expanded the craft sector’s horizons the pandemic has brought about the unprecedented closure of borders, insulating and isolating communities. Rosy Greenlees and Joseph Lo report on a seminar that asks, how might craft organisations operate in this new context?

This is the fourth in our Future at Hand series. 


While in recent decades, technical advances and international policies have expanded the crafts sector profoundly and profusely, the Covid-19 pandemic has also brought about the unprecedented closure of borders, insulating and isolating communities. As a result, localisation has re-surfaced, re-asserting its relevance once again.  The impact of Covid-19 will be in the future as well as the past.

Moving forward, a new development paradigm necessitates the re-articulation of the dynamic relationship between the local crafts sector and the beyond, such as international trade, production, consumption design and more significantly within the dynamism of the community itself. Moreover, as the new mode of operations will rely heavily on the digital, it is imperative that a dialogue be established between crafts, which is essentially an analogue practice, with the digital – the technology used. Furthermore, as the notion of geography is the foundation of this relationship, the conversation should also include how crafts can be geographically indicated and the meaning of authenticity within the relationship of cosmopolitan-localism. All these topics also reflect the importance and respect for intellectual property and copyrights.

This session was chaired by Ashoke Chatterjee (India), – Executive Director, Senior Faculty, Distinguished Fellow and Professor of communication and management, National Design Institute.

Panellists were Frans Panjaitan (Indonesia/Canada) – Multidisciplinary Designer; Fernando Laposse (Mexico) – Mexico-London Based Designer; Li Rongli (China) – Academic and Designer; Daphne Johnsson Zografo (Switzerland) – World Intellectual Property Organisation; Britta Kalkreuter (UK) – Associate Professor, School of Textiles and Design, Heriot -Watt University; and Jonathan Koupermann (Ecuador) – Cultural Economist, Manager, Art Producer.

Facilitators were Simon Ellis (UK/Canada) – Consultant, Statistics and culture and creative industry; and Katia Steward (UK) – Project Manager, British Council


Ashok Chatterjee introduced the discussion and identified some of the challenges facing the craft sector including sustaining livelihoods, income generation, and accessing markets.  These challenges were only more intense in light of Covid-19 which was still with us and would be for the foreseeable future.  The subject in this seminar of localism and cosmopolitanism touches on concepts including geography, place, authenticity and community value. In this context, there was an urgency to establish more robust support systems for craft at local, national and international levels.  We are living in a time of great anxiety and we need a new paradigm for craft: one which promotes the soul of craft – and the value of craft – that needs to be protected, strengthened and sustained.

The key issues in this discussion are: what does the local look like in the context of the global; how is cosmopolitanism different to globalism; what is the ‘new normal’ post covid; and what do we need to retain whilst planning for the future?

Each of the speakers introduced themselves:

  • Frans Panjaitan, has been developing a new form of Indonesian batik in a world transformed by technology.  Batik is a mathematical formula based on repetition which provides the basis for a software programme developed by Frans and his colleagues.
  • Li Rongli introduced Firegrass a material used to weave textiles by some ethnic groups in the SW of China, in particular, the Lisu and Yi communities of Yunnan Province.  This craft has been handed down through generations of women. Li Rongli had developed new products to make it more attractive for contemporary markets and encouraged young women to take up the craft.
  • Daphne Johnsson Zografo introduced how craft traditions are prolific amongst indigenous communities and the challenge has been on protecting them against third party interventions.  She saw a tension between the nature of craft and globalisation in terms of who has rights over craft. Much of craft does not meet the criteria of IP protection; crafts being traditional rather than original.  Whilst a range of IP rights exist– Geographic Indicators, trademarks, collective marks – the question has been on how to create a strategy using these tools to protect the reputation and promote craft made by indigenous communities.
  • Jonathan Koupermann spoke about the importance of being able to sell work in order to sustain the artisan’s practice.  In Latin America, they have been working together locally, nationally and internationally,  looking at ways to both innovate and maintain traditions.  The aim was to create new spaces for handicraft; and new techniques with traditional inserts.  Giving artisans new tools and information have been empowering. For example, as a consequence of Covid-19,  people have been using their cell phones to communicate with others – they need to be connected and want to be heard.
  • Britta Kalkreuter was concerned with the tangible and intangible heritage of crafts; and how it is connected to its locality.  What are the motivations behind different crafts: be it innovation or preservation. There have been new opportunities for craft in a digital context. She thought there were more options than simply e-commerce and market driven products; exploring with artisans on how they could be providers of experiences have been one of her areas of research.
  • Fernando Laposse is a designer working with an indigenous community in Mexico to revive an endangered variety of traditional corn which had been threatened by the widespread introduction of American varieties of corn.  He had developed techniques based on traditional marquetry using the corn waste – the leaves – to create a new craft process and eco-material which provided a source of income. This project had a global vision linking craft, agriculture and natural resources, having the potential to provide solutions for the community to face future challenges.

The discussion focused on a number of issues which highlighted the tensions between cosmopolitanism and localism.  These tensions could be both positive and negative – sometimes at the same time – but which offered a potential new way forward.  This potential was not simply for craft and the artisans but offered wider benefits when considered in a broader social and cultural context.

A local perspective

This debate has always been dominated by a global viewpoint, but it was important to look at things from a local perspective.  The local and the global should co-operate in a fair way. The world has always been in flux and the hyper-local was a misnomer because it is always in relation to the global.  For example, Mexico still carried a colonial legacy.  Fernando’s project was working in reverse to colonisation by taking a European craft – marquetry – and using it to create a new form for the benefit of the local community.  At the same time, the craft has been able to act as a vehicle for social mobility, turning farmers into craftspeople and giving them control over their own destiny.

Similarly, Li Rongli was bringing together nature and agriculture through a craft process.  Her initiative was aimed at supporting local women to earn a living by cultivating firegrass (as it has been grown in the wild), spinning the fibres into yarns and weaving the yarns into textiles, which could then be sold more widely. The craft techniques and the cultivation of crops were both a source of income and a means of preservation of culture as well as engendering gender equality.

Both these projects brought together craft, agriculture, biodiversity and indigenous people in positive ways and which straddled the local and global.

In the case of Frans, digitising the Indonesian batik process gave it an entry point into the wider world. The software enabled the technique to be accessed by a larger audience,  created knowledge sharing and facilitated cross-fertilisation.

Starting from a local perspective meant building on traditional crafts and strengthening communities but also creating new products with a global outlook. However, was there a tension between preserving and advancing; conserving and innovating?  Are these new products authentic and do they have integrity within the local context?  Do they compromise the core values of the traditional, of the local?

What is worth preserving? And who decides? It was often the audiences who decide and not necessarily the makers. Perhaps it had been a mistake for international development support to focus on preservation; it has been too paternalistic to artisans when what was needed was supporting them to survive in this new context. This meant knowing how to convey authenticity. Whilst there were tools to do this, for example, certification marques and Geographical Indicators, these were not the whole answer. Building entrepreneurship would be needed in order to make intelligent use of such tools.

The tension between local and global was a false dichotomy. The pandemic had interrupted global supply chains and forced people to rethink. In this context, local materials, markets, and networks had become more relevant. Covid-19 had also created a reverse migration with people returning to their family homes, away from densely populated areas.  They were returning with new skills with a cosmopolitan outlook which brought a new perspective and dimension to local communities.

At the same time, geographical boundaries have been breaking down because of digital technology which became even more important during the pandemic. This meant that being local could still mean having a global perspective and outlook, that is, cosmopolitanism. Technology has connected people globally and created new opportunities for artisans. There has been a huge appetite in remote communities to be connected but also to determine their own direction and identity.

These wider benefits were valuable to the craft sector – the linkages between rural and urban development; between the tangible and intangible – because they aligned well with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


This renewed interest in the local, post-Covid-19, combined with the breakdown of geographical boundaries due to digital technology has been driving an interest in, and a resultant higher price on, authenticity.  This makes the need for cultural tourism to be sensitive all the more important.  Tourists often only want souvenirs and do not want to spend more on expensive craft.  They drive the demand for the traditional rather than innovative craft.  The challenge then is how can craft makers educate tourists to buy authentic products and how to prevent the sale of fake products.

selling less but more expensive and superior items

There were two ways in which such challenges could be met.  The first is an opportunity to develop new traditions and products which speak of the handmade and sustainability concerns.  This means educating consumers and articulating authenticity in artisans’ work but it also means promoting markets to consume less.  Significantly, in view of the climate change crisis, makers need to take responsibility for their impact.  This would mean selling less but more expensive and superior items.  There is also the option to produce craft from new processes and materials. For example, using recycled materials.  However, the challenge here is that makers are not necessarily recognised for this work because it does not conform to national and cultural expectations of a traditional craft; and therefore dissuades craft makers from pursuing this option.

The experiential

The second solution begs the question: does craft always have to end in the purchase of a product at all?  If we need to consume less, then experience, rather than consumption, is a better outcome.  Intangible cultural heritage is conveyed more effectively through the experiential than through the consumption of a product.  Audiences are increasingly keen to learn and experience new things and are willing to pay for such practical workshops.  For example, the huge popularity of mending which has been facilitated by digital technology. However, such experiences are often not led by indigenous communities as they should be.  Developing the experiential would enable makers to become the guides and providers of specific techniques and processes.  They could genuinely become guardians of their craft: both preserving and progressing it in a new form.


In order for craft to operate in this way, in a global context, it requires a digital presence.

This means a greater focus on communication and the ability to present a narrative: to tell stories about the craft.  In this way, audiences can experience craft digitally as well as in real-time and place.  Makers need to be supported to learn this way of engaging with audiences so that they can reach out beyond their locality.

Institutions such as museums can also contribute to this agenda and promote craft as a public good.  As a sustainable, authentic activity that both empowers local and often indigenous communities but also advocates for the wide benefits of craft beyond the sale of nice souvenirs.

A cosmopolitan outlook

Whilst there is an appetite in the craft sector for progress, there is an obsession with preservation which creates a constant brake on any change.  Craft is locked into an accepted set of disciplines, materials and processes and ways of doing things that it needs to break out of.  Cosmopolitanism, in this regard, is not globalism.  Instead, it speaks of a positive approach: where local and indigenous makers have agency. In an international context, makers have local wisdom but are open to global ideas.  In this scenario, makers have their own voices and are speaking on a global digital platform to tell their own stories.

to reach audiences through experiential activities rather than the mere physical consumption of products

In order to enable this change the crafts sector needs data: an evidence base to move beyond a 19th-century understanding of craft so as to show the value of craft in relation to society, health and well-being, identity and heritage, as well as economically. Secondly, the sector needs to re-capitalise craft through education, developing it for the younger generation in a way that reflects the changes taking place in our society.  Finally, the craft sector needs to extend craft beyond its traditions, to reach audiences through experiential activities rather than the mere physical consumption of products; using the skills and knowledge of makers to develop existing and new craft materials and processes that contribute to sustainability.

Achieving these aims would enable the craft sector to be a positive and empowered force for good and one which is not a victim of globalisation and romanticism but is looking out beyond its locality and taking its place on an international platform.

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