By Kupluthai Pungkanon
Below is an excerpt from the interview.
The Nation: Please update us on SACICT’s strategy in promoting Thailand as the Southeast Asian hub of knowledge in arts and crafts.
Amphawan: Our present strategy has been applied for the past four years and will continue for some time: to promote the country’s rich heritage in arts and crafts in daily life. By all means, if the handicrafts do not answer and benefit modern lifestyles, they will not sell. Thus, we aim to develop the arts and crafts products by offering experiences so that the local producers will themselves learn how to improve the products, artistic creations and inspirations to suit a modern lifestyle.
Our approach is to encourage them to meet designers and end-users through many activities. For example, in the past when we had organised an event, any producer could join in, but nowadays they have to go through a selection process, according to the specific theme of the activity. Also, even if they participated in the event in January, and they want to join in the August edition, they must show improvement in their new products. Such experience will help them learn to communicate with consumers.
For art masters, we encourage them to create their unique signature – colours or patterns – so that it is instantly recognisable, which leads in building up their status and pride, and in creating a brand. At the end, they can carry on into the future even without us, and that is the sustainable way to promote Thai arts and crafts.
The Nation: How many members are there in SACICT?
Amphawan: We have about 4,000 members, and nearly 400 are crafts masters. As a public company under the royal patronage, we have been positioning ourselves in the international market. We have opened to the market in France, South Korea, Taiwan, Bhutan, Japan, the 10 Asean countries and many more.
Foreigners tend to view crafts as artistic works, thus, we have developed products as gallery and museum pieces and we have expanded collaboration with other networks through exchanging crafts masters, for example. At SACICT, we honour the crafts masters, whom we have divided into three categories: first are the national artists, second are those with very high experience, and both groups will transfer their knowledge to the third group which are the heirs, young generations who will carry on producing the handicrafts and techniques.
The Nation: What have you seen that was life changing for local artists?
Amphawan: It’s priceless. First of all, under the royal patronage of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother, who has tirelessly worked to preserve and to develop local handicrafts, we never exclude ethnic minorities. We want to project Her Majesty the Queen Mother’s perseverance and kindness to young generations, the importance of having such roots and wisdom, and of their being able to generate income from these arts and crafts.
In the past, the handicraft artisans did not really have status. People who buy craftworks did not recognise the origins or did not see the distinctions or signatures of the products. As we honour the crafts master and encourage the transfer of knowledge to the communities, that’s changed their well-being and improved their earnings.
We also promote product development, innovation and creativity, so that it suits the modern lifestyle. Young people should feel “cool” when they carry a hill tribe’s bags. There are lots of workshops and networking. The producers and designers have the chance to share ideas, remain open-minded and try new possibilities. Mainly, we have to promote our rich heritage infused with modern designs and innovations to create value-added, and gradually change the attitude of consumers – and so bring arts and crafts closer to the modern lifestyle.
We also aim to be the Southeast Asian hub of knowledge in arts and crafts through the Arts and Crafts Knowledge Centre, which incorporates a digital search system dubbed the SACICT Archive. We collect knowledge, wisdom and add value to Thai craftsmanship through modern technology platforms using a digital arts and crafts search system. The Centre is the best source of knowledge about handicrafts in Thailand and in the region, and allows Thais from every sector to participate in and access information so that knowledge will be transferred, inspire and ultimately help create income. So far, the outcome has been impressive, our organisation has had a two-digit growth rate every year.
The Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand is located in Bang Sai District, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. It’s open daily from 8am to 5pm, and admission is free. For more information, call 1289.