‘Minute Apprenticeship’ with Roma artisans

When was the last time you saw a silversmith, blacksmith or weaving workshop? For the past few weeks, visitors and residents of Cluj have had the opportunity to not only meet and watch such artisans at work, but take part in them as an impromptu apprentice.

The Itinerant Roma ButiQ Workshop is part of the ambitious “Romano Cher – Casa Romilor” social and economic integration project that aims to restore broken links between the traditional artisan skills of Roma and current market needs. Workshops are set up in public spaces to provoke the curiosity of passers-by  inviting them to explore the culture and traditional crafts of the Roma.

Instead of merely acting as passive observors, passers-by are interact directly with the artisans. By working under their expert guidance , curious members of the public are invited to take part in a “Minute Apprenticeship”, learning to fashion silver jewelery, weave a wicker basket or carve a wooden spoon from scratch.

The workshops have been touring Romania, spending a month in each city with workshop set up in a main public space to attract a maximum amount of visitors. So far the workshops have received over 10,000 visitors, and have attracted a great deal of attention and support from the media.

Roma and crafts

Traditionally, the Roma community identify themselves by the craft or trade that they practice. Self-identification by profession has survived until today. Roma craft is more than a simple occupation; is what largely defines a group of Roma.

Historical and socio-anthropological literature points out that since the Middle Ages, Roma craftsmen occupied a significant place in the Romanian economy, filling a niche that could not be satisfied elsewhere.

However, the transition to a globalized economy and introduction imported products has had a devastating impact on traditional crafts in general. Cheap, mass-produced products have flooded the market and replaced many of the household items once made of tin, wood or traditional materials.

Despite the fact that crafts are an essential part of their identity, Roma people are increasingly abandoning these traditional skills. The projects wider aims are to encourage and support Roma craftsmen to continue practicing their trades by turning them into profitable and sustainable activities, while ensuring and maintaining legal representation at a regional and national level.

Cooperatives

A key part of the “Romano Cher – Casa Romilor” project is the creation of cooperatives that will provide a representative status and additional security to Roma artisans. So far, four handicraft cooperatives have been founded and 15 are in training. By the completion of the project there are plans to create 30 cooperatives in total, which will work together to form the Roma Craftsmen Union, the first national association representing the interests of Roma crafts.

ButiQ Roman Itinerant Workshop is organized by KCMC in partnership with the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca and the Ethnographic Museum. Casa Roma is co-financed by European Social Fund Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007 – 2013 – “Invest in people ‘and is mainly aimed at bringing Roma traditional artisan market economy and active life of the community .

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