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FOFA IN 2013-2014
Names matter, especially in a contest. At best, they provide allure, stimulation, and a wealth of associations. "Celebrating Mother Earth," the theme of FOFA's major project in 2013 - its third competition for young folk artists -- is a case in point. For Oaxaca's artesanos, the theme resonated. It touched on Zapotec and Mixtec history, pueblo traditions, and the craft practices of their families and communities. The phrase "Mother Earth" evoked forms, materials, folk tales and the realm of spirits. Mother Earth was not just beneath their feet and the source of their food. It was also in their dreams: in inherited (and personal) ideas about power and social relations, sexuality and creativity.

Robust Response
No wonder then that the 2013 contest drew a record number of entrants (119 or 30% more than in 2011). No wonder, too, given the judges' enthusiasm for the work of these artesanos, that a record number of prizes was awarded: 50 honorable mentions in addition to the Winners in six categories (Ceramics, Weaving, Woodcarving, Decorative Painting on Woodcarving, Other Modalities, and Youth (16 and under). All 56 artists (ages 9-30) are represented in a striking, 80-page catalog, FOFA's largest and most ambitious to date.

Perhaps the concrete, easily visualized theme was most helpful to the youngest (wonderfully talented) entrants. Twenty-five percent of participants were between the ages of 9 and 16. Of this number, twelve received honorable mentions in competition with their "elders" (up to the age of 30). In fact, the powerful, eye-catching cover of the 2013 catalogue (documenting the exhibition that grew out of the concurso) is graced by the work of a ten-year-old artist. Imagine, if these youngsters stay focused, the proverbial wind in their sails.


Cultural Heritage Course: A FOFA Initiative

The concurso (competition) was the focal point of FOFA's activities (in conjunction with MEAPO (Museo Estatal de Arte Popular Oaxaca, the Oaxaca State Museum of Popular Arts). But FOFA's work doesn't end with awarding prizes and publishing a catalog. In 2013, with support from the Western Union Foundation, FOFA and MEAPO offered a 12-week "Cultural Heritage Course" to participants - - including tours of significant local sites and lectures by two practicing artist/art historians, Emilio Len Zurita and Juan de Dios Gmez.

Every Saturday from early September to mid-December, 25 participants explored themes in regional and national history as well as the traditional arts of Oaxaca. Students were excited to experience their own deep connections to the land, their pueblos, and the artists in their families. While they had often felt marginal in Oaxaca and isolated in their villages, the lectures, discussions and field trips generated a new pride of place. Their crafts are rich; their connections (coming as they do from different pueblos) have made them, as individuals, feel even richer.




Marketing Opportunities

Selling their work is an ongoing concern for the artesanos and for FOFA, too. On November 9, 2013, prior to the ceremony inaugurating the exhibit, FOFA sponsored a folk art market in the courtyard of MEAPO. The six winners and fifty honorable mention recipients were all invited to sell their work. About 35 participated, and with uneven results. Some sold very little. Others sold out. But all had something to learn from the effort: whether regarding display, pricing, or simply chatting up the work to shoppers. Artists often hate marketing, but there's no escaping that facet of the work.






What does it take for a young artist to move ahead? More training, a tutor or mentor, funds for materials, and - -  yes - - ambition, confidence, and a personal vision.



Pursuing Personal Artistic Dreams


Toward this end, FOFA asked its six contest winners to define their artistic dreams/sueos. Dr. Lucille Atkin, a member of FOFA's Advisory Board, helped each of the six to move forward.


Consider the experience of Fabiola Contreras Sosa, the winner in textiles. Fabiola's entry in the competition (in Textiles) was a white cotton blouse, which is as rich as it is quiet, intricately decorated with a combination of white embroidery and an unusual mode of thread-pulling.  Fabiola, who comes from the rug weaving pueblo of Teotitln del Valle, desperately wanted to learn other decorative techniques. Thanks to FOFA, she has met with the Director of The Textile Museum of Oaxaca. Beginning in February, 2014 she is becoming acquainted with a range of regional textiles and methods of producing them. The Museum is encouraging her to create a "signature product," which will be sold in its gift shop.





Contest Participants Form Relationships


Fabiola's story suggests the generative (and also practical) dimensions of FOFA's evolution. The widely publicized competition now draws more artists into its realm. Thanks to contributions from individuals and grants such as one from the Western Union Foundation ($20,000) and another from Los Amigos de Arte Popular (LADAP, another U.S. non-profit organization, $7,000), the concurso opens doors to unexpected opportunities. Artesanos meet other artists; some find mentors, new networks, and even commercial opportunities. Moving into 2014, a core group of fifteen participants in the 2013 Cultural Heritage Course plans to produce an online publication for networking and sharing news - - including news about other competitions and commercial opportunities.



New Website for Young Artists


Another FOFA initiative -- a website for young artists, www.fofa-young-artists.org -- intended to facilitate communication with potential clients will launch in February. All winners and recipients of honorable mention in the August 2013 competition are featured. FOFA will offer training on use of the site, as well as other essential aspects of selling artwork, e.g., effective methods for packing and shipping.


All concurso participants find greater strength within. Sweetest of all, perhaps, is their new understanding of the richness and energy of pueblo traditions. Madre Tierra lives in their families and craft histories. Oaxacans have much to teach one another. The world may beckon, but home turf now has a fresh allure.


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