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The Hands-on Approach in Handcrafts Design

McComb, Jessie F., a Fulbright Scholar, was in New Delhi for a year studying the lost wax casting process of the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh and the surrounding areas. Back in America, she is going to contribute to our website in a new series Letter from America. Ms. McComb received a BA in both Art History and Physics in 2003 from Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York. In addition to her interests in Indian folk and tribal crafts, she has worked extensively with Contemporary Indian Art.

With rising university tuition, educational tax cuts and a slowing economy making it hard to find employment, the focus on the future of education has never been higher in America. Educators and politicians are looking to new forms of technology to broaden curriculums in every subject from science to history. And now this topic has transcended national boundaries and has begun to become an important focus for educators everywhere.

But what does this all mean for the craft world? As design becomes an ever increasing importance to the success of India craft in local, regional and global markets, the education of those designers must also be seen as a key element in the unfolding future of crafts in the world over.

In March of 2005 the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad held a conference that addressed this very topic. The conference, titled Design Education: Modernity and Tradition, was attended by delegates from 27 countries with over 70 papers presented. At the conclusion of the conference the attendees drafted the Intent Statement for Design Education - Ahmedabad 2005 which outlines ideas and ideals for the future of design education.

Considering that last December the President of India set forth an initiative to outline a National Design Policy, this statement of intent comes at a formidable time. With more focus on collaboration in education that is usable immediately, the statement that NID released as an outcome of the conference could not have been more appropriate. A major part of the conference focused on finding a synthesis and sense of equilibrium between modern market demands and tastes and the traditional wisdom that courses through the veins of India design practices. With input from educators, researchers and designers the conference had an important and necessary global perspective needed in world where communication of ideas and images is becoming effortless.

The statement discussed and created by a 15-member panel of influential national and international individuals from the design field, will serve as a benchmark on design education for India as well as the rest of the world. It touched upon the purpose of design and its creative systems that stem from innovative collaboration, creative activity, diversity and the urge to generate a holistic experience.

In reaction to the globalizing world the statement's discussion on design education centers around the themes of collaboration, team-based creation, multi-disciplinary design and cross-cultural interaction. The statement urged design educators to focus their efforts on infusing the curriculum with culturally sensitive objectives that respect local traditions as well as the ecosystems within which producers create.

Although the Intent Statement for Design Education is a massive step for the progress of Indian design education and implementation there seemed to me a point that was overlooked, put aside or at least just not directly addressed. The need for practical based experience for design students hovered just below the surface of the intent statement and was never clearly stated as necessary, important or eventual. For students coming from the top institutes in India, their designs are instilled with creativity, innovation and genius but can often fail in the market due to their impracticality or distance from market demands.

In terms of handcrafts, design students need hands on experience working with artisans and understanding their needs and creative ideas. They need to comprehend the importance of success for artisan products which are livelihood and sometimes only means of survival for the artisans. And in order for true community collaboration to truly be imbedded in the education that these designers receive, from institutes both in India and abroad, there must be a focus on practical experience and partnerships with the producers.



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