Judy Frater

Ashoka Fellow
Bhuj-Kutch, India
Fellow Since 2003

Citation

This profile was prepared when Judy Frater was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
In the last few decades, the traditional crafts sector in India has changed dramatically. Craftspeople are compelled to find new markets as local villagers seek mass-produced functional clothing. Fortunately, at the same time sophisticated urban markets have welcomed the concept of traditional crafts. However, these crafts must be adapted to their new clientele. To facilitate this shift, three broad areas must be addressed and interlinked: thorough understanding of traditional crafts, contemporary design input, and marketing. Previously, the craftspeople themselves managed all of these areas.

With the shift in the market, the necessity of design intervention to ensure the survival of craft has been recognized. Conventionally, it is assumed that such intervention takes place in the form of trained designers giving new designs to craftspeople. Intervention of this type implies that designers have knowledge and skills that enable them to conceive of aesthetically appropriate products and that craftspeople have the skills to produce such designs. In essence, the craftsperson becomes a laborer. The separation of designer and craftsperson thus simultaneously elevates the status of the former and lowers that of the latter, effectively disempowering the craftsperson.

But, if one recognizes the creative capability of craftspeople in terms of cost efficiency and feasibility, it is more practical to think of training traditional craftspeople in design principles than to train designers in craft traditions. Further, in terms of the survival of craft traditions it is far more sustainable. Judy is working both to address these issues and to meet the various needs of the craft sector.

A decade ago, Judy established a grassroots community museum managed by a trust, comprising of mainly locals, to preserve and protect traditional arts and to provide opportunities for the direct sale of contemporary arts through local participation. Craftsperson-driven, Kala Raksha (protection of art) lets craftspeople set their own wages. Thirty percent of the price of Kala Raksha products goes directly to these village women. These artisans today travel across the globe and the country, selling their Kala Raksha products and interacting with consumers. With her experience working with the crafts artisans and studying market trends, Judy is now focusing on the need to institutionalize the crafts, educate and prepare the craft communities to help them adapt to the changing times, establish them as the best designers for their products, and adapt their traditional skills to new products and markets. She is doing this primarily by means of a curriculum she has designed–one that can function as a model for different craft sectors across the country.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

Updates

Judy Frater is Founder Director of Somaiya Kala Vidya (http://www.somaiya-kalavidya.org/), an institute of education for artisans. She has lived in Kutch, working with artisans, for 25 years. During this time she Co-founded and operated Kala Raksha Trust. She established the Kala Raksha Textile Museum, and founded Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya, the first design school for traditional artisans. For this concept, Ms. Frater was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship in 2003. Under her eight-year tenure as Director, Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya received international recognition for its unique and successful approach to education of artisans. Frater received the Sir Misha Black Medal for Distinguished Services to Design Education in 2009, the Crafts Council of India Kamla award in 2010, and the George B. Walter’36 Service to Society Award from Lawrence University in 2014. In 2014 she joined Somaiya group to found Somaiya Kala Vidya, to take design for artisans from a program to an institute and reach its full potential. Ms. Frater is author of Threads of Identity: Embroidery and Adornment of the Nomadic Rabaris, awarded the Costume Society of America’s Milla Davenport award. Before residing in India, she was Associate Curator of Eastern Hemisphere Collections at the Textile Museum, in Washington, DC.

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