Nepal is known for its art and culture all over the world. We have a lot of potential in art, mainly handicraft items. Art and sculpting is the way for a lot of local artisans to earn a livelihood. It is a way to alleviate poverty, as well as to promote our culture and tradition. Art and crafts help to keep cultural and aesthetic traditions alive and flourishing. But when our artisans and crafters face obstacles to make ends meet, we have to question how much of that statement is actually true. They are constrained by geographical, financial, organizational, and other barriers which keep them from meeting their full potential.
Through highlighting the challenges that artisans in Nepal face, the aim is to try to overcome them. Here are some problems that artisans in Nepal face.
- No access to the mainstream market
As it is no secret, our mainstream market is lacking art; art made by our people. This is a direct result of the lack of access our artisans have to the marketplace. Mostly, they sell their goods through a middleman. These middlemen buy goods from them in bulk at an unbelievably low price and sell them to us at a much higher price. The profits they earn, mostly, if not fully, go to them. The artisans who put hard work into the goods get pushed to the side.
Without being able to interact with the customers directly, the artists don’t get to negotiate fair prices for their art. Relying on local fairs and exhibitions (melas), which are already overthrown out of the market is no way out. The artisans also have no access to the international market where Nepali handicrafts and art thrive the most. Without much access and reference of the consumer base in domestic markets, they can’t do much to grow and retain their consumers internationally. They get forever tied to the middlemen, who don’t have their best interests at heart.
- Lack of advertisement
The talented artisans who mostly focus on making art are restricted also because of a lack of advertisement and exposure to the marketplace. Since going through a middleman is the only way most times, they can’t venture out on their own to market and sell their artworks. They can’t advertise the products as necessary themselves, because the only way they could ever sell the products was through someone else.
Besides, with the ever-growing industries and mills at the boom, the competition completely erases them out of the picture. As a result of industrialization, handicrafts have lost their relevance and significance in our marketplace. Firstly, it is next to impossible to match the mass production from industries. These industrial products are much cheaper as a result. They have to lower the prices of their products further if they want to make sales. Secondly, when art designs become more complicated, artists go out of business.
- Financial burden
Artists encounter severe financial constraints, which makes it difficult for them to get high-quality equipment and raw materials. As a result, they cannot make their products to match the industrial standard. For an international marketplace, the products aren’t export-quality. Artisans also can’t get much support from financial institutions as they can’t guarantee repayment. Furthermore, their profit margins are also extremely low to meet interest rates. Whatever the profit is spent on daily expenditure, with little to nothing left for business.
All these financial obstacles make the artisans unable to expand and grow their industrial units. Also, without much help and moderation from local and state governments, there is little motivation to run art businesses.
- Outdated techniques and equipment
As a result of the financial challenges, our artisans are lacking in new technology and work with outdated equipment. Most artists in rural areas aren’t digitally linked to the rest of the world. So, they can’t make products that hold cultural significance as well as interest the modern consumer base. Relying solely on unfaithful middlemen and local art exhibitions makes them miss out on the wonders of eCommerce.
Besides the need to stay competitive and accommodate their client’s changing needs, artists must also be able to protect their own artwork. They can’t copyright their products to avoid industrial copying and forgery.
- Lack of training
Artists lacking in terms of design, modern equipment, and eCommerce also results from the lack of such educational and training opportunities. Proper training and education help artists understand the value of their art, the place of their products in the marketplace, prices, consumer base, negotiation with middlemen/traders, and advertisement. Handicrafts and most artforms are challenging to learn and have lengthy processes. The art trade is usually a family business and people are taught by their elders. Not all novices can take advantage of government programs, which there aren’t enough of, because of financial challenges and lack of awareness. This is especially the case for women. As a result, they become uncompetitive and lack advanced training and skills.
Some other underlying problems for artisans in Nepal are the infrastructure and services, or lack thereof. In rural areas, poor infrastructure is a big barrier. When raw materials and equipment cannot be transported to them due to ill-constructed roads, they can’t make products on time and in the required frequency. Sometimes the power supply is insufficient and completely cut-off. Machines are damaged as a result of power outages and voltage changes. These raise the production expenses for the artists.
Legislators can’t develop effective measures to protect our craftsmen due to the lack of state interest and statistics. As a result, it is becoming more difficult to promote and revitalize this already suffering industry. When there is no promising future and security, the younger generation can’t be blamed for not following in the footsteps of their forefathers and mothers. Or, talented craftsmen would rather work in factories where the labour is less hard and money is better.
This is not to say there isn’t a solution. With better training programs and official certifications, it could be much easier for artists to start and keep their businesses in the market. There need to be better financial aid plans from local organizations, especially in rural areas. Responsible authorities should start looking into making our villages more accessible. We need more campaigns to promote our local art and crafts internationally as well as nationally. There need to be designated market areas for our hardworking artisans to sell their products without industrial intervention. There is still plenty of opportunity and potential in the art business in Nepal. The traditional skillsets of Nepali artisans in far-flung districts, who deserve to shine in the domestic as well as the international arena need our support as customers and lawmakers.