KSU Art Professor Trains Designers, Artisans in Nepal

February 02, 2015

Art professor Lin Hightower recently returned from traveling to Nepal after receiving a Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant, one of the highest awards given by the US government. There, she initiated a course that will improve the lives of local artisans and designers.

Hightower – a design professor with Kennesaw State’s College of the Arts – worked with the Association of Craft Producers (ACP), an artisan cooperative, from August to December 2014 to develop a class for art students at Kathmandu University (KU). The class teaches students to collaborate with low-income artisans to design craft products that preserve Nepalese Cultural Heritage and appeal to the tastes of Nepalese buyers and international tourists alike.

By catering to a wider audience, artisans can sell more products and earn sustainable incomes. Artisan cooperatives are typically groups of low-income artisans with strong traditional art and craft skills who have banded together for economies of scale to produce more art products.

ACP is an artist cooperative employing 1,500 low-income Nepalese artisans and marketing their products locally and abroad. Hightower’s course is taught onsite at ACP’s facility, with students working directly in real studios with actual artisans. It covers a variety of crafting methods, including textiles, woodworking, metalwork, and jewelry. Students completing the course will be better prepared to work with artisans and design craft products that reflect indigenous craftsmanship and attract buyers.

“The students will have entrepreneurial opportunities to work as designers, or to create their own businesses and change more lives in Nepal, a developing country,” Hightower said in an interview on Nepal television.

In order to ensure the program continues well beyond her visit, Hightower initiated and helped negotiate a memorandum of understanding between Kathmandu University and ACP to teach the class once a year. The MOU also includes additional benefits for artisans and ACP staff members.

“I’m very excited about the MOU,” Hightower said. “It is the biggest outcome of my project abroad. Through the MOU, the KU School of the Arts is offering partial scholarships to children of the artisans and children of the staff of ACP that qualify.

“This is an example of education (Kathmandu University), business (Association of Craft Producers), government (US and Nepal) and social development all working together. Many lives will be changed by this project.”

Hightower has long been an advocate for indigenous artists around the world. She has taught artisan cooperative groups and worked as a designer in seven countries, including Nepal, India, Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and Peru. In each instance, she encourages them to embrace their country’s unique traditional art forms, which helps preserve the country’s cultural heritage while also increasing the value of the artists’ works on the global marketplace through new products and design approaches.

Ultimately, the goal of Hightower’s efforts in Nepal and other countries is to help promote fair trade practices for indigenous artists so that they can earn sustainable incomes from their crafts. When a craft is the product of fair trade practices, it means that the artists were paid a fair price for their work, no child labor was used, and meets nine other fair trade requirements. Organizations like the ACP promote fair trade practices in Nepal.

“They pay fair wages to their artisans,” Hightower said,” so that the artisans can have better nutrition, shelter, healthcare, and education for their children.”

Hightower previously received a Fulbright Specialist Fellowship from the U.S. Department of State to Thailand in 2013 where she worked with Mahasarakham University and local artisan groups, designed a museum space and taught software to document historical patterns. The Fellowship program is a new offering that awards short-term grants to U.S. scholars and professionals to teach at overseas universities. She is currently developing a course on how to work with artisan groups, art product design and fair trade practices that will be shared with universities abroad.

Now that Hightower has helped establish this joint course between Kathmandu University and the ACP, she sees a bright future for young Nepalese artists and designers.

“I’m very excited about the young people of Nepal,” she said. “They are very visionary. They are optimistic that they can change the world. I feel very comfortable to leave the world in their hands. I really think they can do it.”

-Patrick Harbin

Full Interview with Lin Hightower on Nepal TV