Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Frequently Asked Questions About 10,000 Villages

1. What is Ten Thousand Villages?
Ten Thousand Villages is a marketing organization that sells handicrafts from developing countries through its network of 36 stores in Canada, 115 in the US, and through 300 annual Festival Sales in Canada (100+) and the US (200+).
It is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a relief and development organization working around the world. Ten Thousand Villages has its roots in the work begun by Edna Ruth Byler in 1946.
2. Where does everything come from and who made it?
Products sold by Ten Thousand Villages come from more than 30 countries around the world, countries considered to be “Third World” or “underdeveloped”.
We buy from more than 120 different groups of artisans and reach thousands of individual people. About 70% of the artisans are single mothers. Some artisan groups also seek to employ persons with physical disabilities.
Ten Thousand Villages intentionally looks to work with people who are unemployed or severely under- employed. Products sold by Ten Thousand Villages do not come from large factories but are made in small group settings or in homes where artisans can also manage household responsibilities or farm work.
We are concerned that the environment in which our artisans work is clean and healthy and materials used for production are not harmful to the artisan or the environment
3. How is a “fair wage” determined?
Ten Thousand Villages talks with the artisans themselves. They also talk with other organizations that are working in that country. We also learn what other persons in the community earn – farm workers, construction workers, teachers, etc. It is our goal that a person’s income enables her/him to pay for food, clothing, housing, children’s education and medical care.
4. How much money does Ten Thousand Villages send back to the artisan?
Before placing an order, Ten Thousand Villages establishes what the artisan group considers to be
a fair price for the item.
When placing the order, half of the purchase price is sent with the order. This allows artisans to purchase the raw materials needed and to pay wages during production.
Upon completion of the order, the remainder of the purchase price is paid before the order leaves the country. Orders are paid in full before they arrive in our warehouse.
5. How do we find these artisans and products?
Ten Thousand Villages is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC, a relief and development organization with contacts in 50 countries around the world.
More than 500 MCC workers live and work in 40 developing countries. In many cases these MCC’ers introduce us to artisans. Sometimes contacts come through other church groups or through the International Federation of Alternative Trade (IFAT IFAT is a 200-member fair trade organization to which Ten Thousand Villages belongs.
Regular visits and financial statements help us to ensure accountability. We do not ask any of the groups we buy from to sell exclusively to us, nor do we have exclusive contracts on any products.
We continually focus on trading with communities with the greatest needs.
6. How are we different from Pier One® or other importers?
Our principle is People First / Product Second. We deliberately go looking for people who have little or no marketing connections. In some cases, we buy from artisans who have never made anything they could sell before. We first encourage the artisans to make whatever they can from raw materials they have available locally. As we work together, products and artisans increase in sophistication.
We worked with Allpa (a group of artisans making ceramic pieces in Peru) for 5 or 6 years before helping them attend the New York Gift Show. Pier One learned about Allpa at the gift show and has placed orders with them since then.
7. Is everything really handmade?
Items are made in home workshops or yards. Stone workers use power tools but items are still made one at a time. Textiles are woven on handlooms rather than on power looms. In the case of the papyrus cards from Egypt, cards are printed by a silkscreen process, then individually hand-painted. Being individually made, products are not always identical.
8. Why aren’t there any products from the impoverished in Canada?
Our mandate is to work with poor artisans in developing countries. In developing countries, governments do not have social assistance programs to help the unemployed or disabled. Any person in Canada probably has better possibilities of accessing the market than a person on the other side of the world. The poorest person in Canada is generally better off than the typical person in Bangladesh, for example.
9. Who does a Festival Sale benefit?
It is Ten Thousand Villages’ intention that the artisans who make the products we sell are also the ones who benefit from our sales. No local Canadian organizations benefit from a Festival Sale. Each sale is run by volunteers.
Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit, self-supporting organization. We do not raise funds for other MCC programs, nor do we receive donations from MCC. We have no shareholders to pay. We are grateful for the many volunteers who gladly work on behalf of world neighbours they will never meet.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

To Blog, or Not To Blog

I have been a regular blogger now for a few years and have racked up more than 300 of them in addition to my professional practice as a reviewer, essayist and curator.  Facebook has also taken up some of my attention and has been a good way of reaching out to readers.  The temptation with Facebook is that it can be done in a few minutes.  It is the graffiti of communication, a post-it-note or abbreviated means of expression.  It does not encourage considered thought or a developed argument.  It does not encourage responsible thinking and writing.  But it can pack a wallop with a stinging after effect.  That makes it expensive mind-candy.

Tenured academics have the perk of sabbaticals to feed their research and keep the creative engines running.  I envy that situation, so I decided to take some time off from regular blogging and do some dedicated reading.  Furthermore, I chose to read fiction and poetry rather than factual prose.  I became more selective about which assignments to accept.  Now this was real luxury.

It is often said that there are usually two solutions to any problem: time and money.  I believe that time is more desirable than money.  If I am considering whether to accept an assignment or pursue a professional project, I will ask myself the following question.  "Do I want to spend my time thinking and researching this topic or artist?"  I rarely give second thought to the writer's fee.
Snagged for only $6 at Broken Books.

Hopefully, this is a matter of quality over quantity.  Oddly enough, life is too short–the quantity of days–to sacrifice quality.  Of course, practicality determines that we need a balance between the two.  I seldom take a walk without a goal or destination in mind.  Maybe it is the result of working to a deadline for the majority of my life.

Part of what sparked this phase of life or attempt to switch gears was a question posed by a friend.  She said, "what do you like to do for fun?"  I was stymied.  Dancing would have been my usual response but I have been sidelined with a persistent injury.  Activities like theatre, cinema and other cultural pursuits are for me professional endeavours.  Had I forgotten how to play?

I am an empty-nester and in my 60s.  What would I do in my so-called retirement years?  A second career seemed unlikely.  Serious travel was too expensive.  I have champagne taste and a beer budget.  My leisure time is dotted with thrift shops, second-hand bookstores and free lectures.  Perhaps I should have followed that sarcastic philosophy professor's career advice and "open a brothel."

Monday, 11 March 2019

When Politics Make Sense

Happy International Women’s Day!

“They tried to bury us. They didn't realize we were seeds.”

On this day, we are proud to share with you what we stand for:

The vision of PerSIStence Theatre is community enlightenment based on the core beliefs of feminism.

We are a charitable.non-profit organization based in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, that responds to the persistent and universal need for promoting, understanding and embracing the core beliefs of feminism. Through professional theatre and related initiatives, we work to change hearts and minds.

  • We challenge discrimination and stereotype in all forms
  • We offer opportunities to all genders with a focus towards people who identify as women*
  • We respond to issues that affect women and girls in our community
  • We re-examine universal stories traditionally told by men, through a feminist lens
  • We produce stories where at least 50 per cent of the text is spoken by female character(s)

Feminism: The belief in political, economic, personal, and social equality for women*.

  • Sexism exists
  • Sexism against women (misogyny) is enduring, pervasive, systemic, cultural, and ingrained
  • All genders should have equal rights and opportunities
  • All genders are the intellectual and social equals of each other
  • All genders should be recognized and treated as equals

*Women: PerSIStence Theatre recognizes the limiting nature of the binary use of woman. We serve and welcome anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies either always or some of the time as a woman. We also serve and welcome those who identify as nonbinary. 

Intersectionality: PerSIStence Theatre works through an intersectional lens for gender parity. We understand and acknowledge that systems of oppression and discrimination are interdependent and span all social categorizations such as race, class, gender, ability, parental status, size, age, and sexual orientation as they apply to a given individual or group. Addressing one spoke of systematic discrimination or disadvantage means holistically addressing them all. 

A great way to celebrate international women’s day

Monday, 28 January 2019

Where Art and Science Meet: Emily Jan

Apologue1 (The Anteater) 2016 48"x30"x24"  by Emily Jan
Two little girls stand transfixed before a mixed-media sculpture by Emily Jan, which takes the life-sized shape of a fabulous anteater. Its intense pink, shiny tongue is frozen in a gesture that snakes towards the girls and then ends with a flourish of greenery. A large bouquet of vividly coloured flowers cascades from its hindquarters and contrasts with the creature’s soft, snowy coat. The girls are puzzling this out. It doesn’t resemble any creature they’ve encountered in reality. It is literally fabulous or fable-like; Jan calls this series of sculptures Apologues, as in the animal populated stories of Aesop,although these are simply numbered rather than titled. Jan’s sensibility may be literary but she is never literal. The girls want to know, “what is the fable about?” They speculate about familiar squirrels and birds, “creatures that eat seeds and then poo them out” starting a new crop of plants. Their conclusion: “it’s the cycle of life, just like in The Lion King.”

The earnest young art critics have successfully untangled the challenge of interconnectivity in Emily Jan’s exhibition, T he World is Bound by Secret Knots . Or perhaps they have enacted one of Jan’s favourite concepts, “the artist as explorer.” They have journeyed to the safe jungle of the artist-run gallery, explored, discovered and studied. This ambitious solo show of ten vignettes in fibre and mixed media is Emily Jan’s response to a three-week residency in the Peruvian Amazon. This 2015 rainforest adventure was typical of Jan’s creative practice, which alternates between research travel and exploration–she has been to 36 countries so far–and long periods of deep engagement with materials and process in the studio. She needle felts raw wool into fur for her hybrid beings, casts resin for their skulls, teeth and impressive claws and hand weaves caning into armature-like skeletons. Second hand flowers and foliage are up cycled into fantastic accents that evoke forests and domestic decoration.

Characteristically, Emily Jan avoids plinth furniture that is common to art galleries. Her methods of display are nuanced selections from the domestic arena: tables, desks, plant stands and shelves. These in turn are harvested from the sustainable economies of the thrift shop or are temporary loans from the community of the exhibiting venue. Think of it as an artistic variation of “catch and release” hunting.

The furniture choices for The World is Bound by Secret Knots extend the aesthetic and narrative possibilities of her sculpture. Tables that would otherwise nest, are stacked vertically becoming small scale towers of consumption. They perch upon each other with neat, poised feet. Curved furniture lines resonate with curling talons, beaks and snake coils. Furniture references function and the warmth of the human hand. The rainforest has come into this living space although not through the use of precious exotic woods. There is a palpable animated energy in the room. A diamond-patterned textile leg from a pair of tights becomes a sinuous serpent on an equally sinuous branch that sprouts a surprising pair of eyes. Will we get consumed by our own habits of consumerism?

Emily Jan blurs the distinctions of time and being in her sculpture. It is hard to tell if her creatures are flourishing or becoming extinct; are they regenerating or are they in a state of decay? Fungus, plant and animal merge in ways that erode the boundaries of species. A fierce bird of prey is festooned with strands of beads that resemble both entrails and caviar. Jan confounds our categories of understanding into a fertile hybridity of fact and fiction. A rich ambiguity seems to have replaced the laws of nature.
Although the series is called Apologues, Emily Jan does not moralize. Instead she seduces the viewer with voluptuous form, detail and colour that is ultimately mysterious. Beauty resides in both the flowers and the weeds. The domains of science and art, which are both ways of understanding the world, are brought together to enhance each other. If fallacy is allowed in art, it is simply because it is another kind of truth.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Oh, For the Love of Words!

I have often joked that my business card should read, "Ms Words, For Fun and Profit".  Yes, words are my friends and I truly relish them.

A long while ago, a colleague of mine quipped, "what's the use of big words if nobody can understand you?"  I agree that words are meant for communication and there is little use in obscuring meaning with "fancy words".  However, I do refuse to dumb things down because that seems to me to be a race to the bottom. 

Thinking about my co-workers' comment and being truly adversarial at heart I subscribed to the Merriam Webster's word-of-the-day service.

I was a little disappointed.  This week there was only one word that I had never seen before: freegan.  Not surprisingly, it refers to someone who only eats free or recycled food. 

I didn't realize that I would get to use the word the same day that I made its acquaintance courtesy of Miriam, or rather Merriam.  (Yes, I am having fun anthropomorphizing words and books.)  Last night, I was in a Spanish restaurant where they are testing new recipes for a February launch.  I was offered a bowl of quail soup.  It was excellent– a great combination of creamed onions, quail and Vallencia oranges.  In turn, I offered a taste to a friend of mine.  His response was "no thank you, I've become a vegan".  I couldn't resist saying that what I had become was a freegan.  (Yay!).