Despite the glass and steel of Santiago’s eastern skyline, and the trendy cafes in its center, the cultural heart of Chile and its capital remains its folk crafts and traditions. Offering technical assistance in design, production, marketing and management to individuals and groups of artisans, Fundación Solidaridad – or the Solidarity Foundation – supports traditional crafts as a means of promoting economic development, creative independence and personal pride.
The Foundation began 35 years ago in 1975 as part of the Cooperation Committee for Peace in Chile (Copachi), working to support artisans held as political prisoners in detention camps by bringing their crafts to public markets. The following year the group was absorbed into the Catholic Church, continuing the work it had begun under Copachi and extending its support to Santiago’s poorest communities, encouraging them to use their traditional skills as a means of alleviating poverty.
The end of the Pinochet regime and the beginning of democracy necessitated a change of approach for the organization. In December of 1990 the group left its church sponsorship and renamed itself Fundación Solidaridad.
Today, the Foundation offers its support to women’s organizations, small family businesses, indigenous groups and artisans with special needs.
What they do
The Foundation’s efforts begin at the earliest stages of the creative process with design consultation. Some children’s toys, for example, are designed with consultation from child psychologists on how to incorporate developmental science into traditional crafts techniques. Consultations from the Foundation also help artisans calculate production costs and establish a viable business model.
The primary thrust of the Foundation’s work, however, comes later in the process. “We help the artisans produce goods that have access to a commercial market,” says Executive Director Winnie Lira Letelier, who has worked with the Foundation since its first days in 1975. This practical element ends by displaying the final products in its showrooms, located in downtown Santiago’s Barrio Brasil (2222 Santo Domingo) and the eastern suburb of Las Condes (Pueblito Los Domínicos, Apoquindo 9085).
By making traditional crafts a viable source of income, the Foundation prevents them merely becoming hobbies while also promoting economic development for the people who keep these traditions alive.
The Foundation Today
Around 180 groups of artisans–roughly 700 individual craftspeople in total–work with the Solidarity Foundation. About 85% of these are women. These craftspeople produce a wide range of goods, from traditional jewelry and pottery, to boxes, household items and greeting cards made from recycled materials. The goods are available for purchase in Santiago’s showrooms, with a limited selection available for purchase online.
Since 1995, the Foundation has been a member of the World Free Trade Organization, allowing it to extend business overseas. It’s operations remain small, with Ms. Letelier and other members of its board intimately involved with the craftspeople and their day-to-day operations.
Though the Foundation has occupied itself with creating markets for handcrafts since its earliest days, its primary goal is neither profit nor even the crafts themselves. “We don’t do this for the crafts,” says Letelier. “We work for the dignity of the artisans.”