Handicrafts of Bengal embody our rich heritage of aesthetics, creativity and artistry. The craft sector provides low cost, green livelihood opportunities to more than 5.5 lakh men and women.
In today’s globalised world, the growing retail industry, fashion and luxury markets demand for green production. Potential for e-commerce have created new opportunities for developing a vibrant craft economy thereby providing increased income opportunities to the craft persons. Besides its high potential for employment, the craft sector is economically important from the point of low capital investment, high ratio of value addition, and high potential for export and foreign exchange earnings for the country. The Government of West Bengal thus aims to unleash the potential of the sector in terms of employment, enterprises, export and growth.
Department of MSME&T (Government of West Bengal) and UNESCO, New Delhi, has collaborated to develop 10 rural craft hubs in the state. The duration of the pilot initiative is 30 months. Contact Base (banglanatak dot com) is implementing the project with a vision to develop the villages with hundreds of families traditionally skilled in craft traditions like Sitalpati, Madurkathi, Terracotta, Patachitra, Dokra, Wooden Mask and Clay Doll making, Kantha as vibrant craft hubs connected to national and international markets.
The project aimed at developing a vibrant craft sector by converting the traditional craft skills of West Bengal into viable enterprise, thereby ensuring socio-economic inclusion of the rural poor.
The project covers 3000 craft persons. 85% belong to scheduled castes, other backward classes or minority communities. 60% are women. The following are the locations and the associated crafts of the 10 Rural Craft Hubs in 11 locations:
The project has resulted in improved income and quality of life. Women are enjoying improved socio-economic status and mobility.
Capacity building, design development and entrepreneurship training have been undertaken across all 11 locations. Skill development initiatives have addressed design development, value-addition and product diversification. Specialists from leading design schools like Indian Institute of Craft Design and National Institute of Fashion Technology were involved in design development. Technical inputs have been provided by National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jadavpur University, Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, Weavers Service Centre etc.
Design & Production Skill development are addressed.
The Craft Hubs are now enjoying greater market demand and year round order.
As part of building entrepreneurial skills, the craftspersons have been oriented on business process, managing forward and backward linkages, maintenance of accounts, schemes and support services available for technical, marketing and financial matters.
Soft Skills development among the craftspersons have also been arranged. The craftspersons have been trained in spoken English. They have learned the use of computers and internet and can also handle emails.
The artists have attended exhibitions and fairs in more than 15 towns and cities across India. International visits were facilitated to Yangon, Bahrain, Taipei, Paris, Houston, towns and villages of France as part of the Gannat Festival. Participation in exposure visits to various fairs has resulted in improved confidence and self esteem, better understanding of market requirements, including consciousness for quality improvement and new designs.
Artists are equipped with promotional tools like brochures, catalogs, website and e-catalogue.
Village festivals have been organised to brand the villages and create awareness.
100+ teachers and 3500+ school students in Kolkata, Delhi and Goa have participated in heritage education workshops. Heritage awareness programmes have been organised in Kolkata, Delhi and Goa in partnership with museums and cultural institutions.
West Bengal Khadi and Village Industries Board (WBKVIB) is providing the necessary hardware support including equipping the rural craft hubs.
Resource Centres and Common Facility Centres are established. CSIR is guiding installation of improved furnace. Sewing machines have been provided to Sitalpati hub.
WBKVIB has provided the artists’ clusters with Rs. 5 Lakh worth of working capital.
Village festivals promote the hubs as cultural destinations. The villages are now better known for their art and skills and the crafts persons are enjoying greater respect for their artistry. Village festivals have witnessed huge audience and sale and have received a lot of appreciation from the artisans. The festivals are attracting a lot of visitors from surrounding villages and towns. They are not only bringing recognition to the hubs but are also providing a new marketing platform, especially for artisans who may not be able to visit fairs elsewhere.
Tourists can stay in the resource centres or artists home. They can take part in village life and enjoy not only the art, handicraft and music but also take part in the process of production, training, composing and designing.