Applied Arts Scotland (AAS) responded to a direct and very specific call out from the British Council for Crafting Futures Afghanistan to write and deliver digital training packages for artisans with an established British Council partner in Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain. Turquoise Mountain was established in 2006 by HRH The Prince of Wales to revive historic areas and traditional crafts, to provide jobs, skills and a renewed sense of pride, and now works in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Design in Craft
Responding to the call that AAS successfully applied for, we refined the specifications to ensure they were maximally relevant and beneficial to the artisans’ needs. AAS created and delivered ‘Design in Craft’, remote digital training (live and pre-prepared) to over 40 female artisans, practicing various craft disciplines (textiles / calligraphy / jewellery / tailoring) in Kabul. The subject areas were to include business and design in craft.
The final four modules for digital delivery were:
- Design in Craft & How Does Design Happen
- Unique Selling Points
- Designing Collections
- Design Communication
In addition, the project focused on the initial development of the ‘Without Words’ concept in digital pedagogy for craft practitioners.
The operating environment was politically unstable, geographically and technologically inaccessible, and hostile. Artisans travelled from different communities to attend the Turquoise Mountain school in Kabul once every two weeks.
Creation of Learning Materials
In creating the learning materials, the ‘Without Words’ approach was taken to develop the content in response to the logistics of and resources (time and cost) required for translation, as well as the understanding that many participating artisans would / could be illiterate.
Five short ‘Without Words’ films were commissioned by AAS, with content provided by established Scottish makers which they filmed themselves, and edited by film editor Simon Mills. These were used alongside additional learning materials to create slide decks for each of the four modules. The design and structure of the slide decks focused on symbolic and visual content supported with separate tutor notes for additional information.
The learning materials’ content also had to introduce self-directed study tasks, with AAS responsible for facilitating assessment and feedback on completed homework tasks for a pre-selected 25% of the participating artisans.
Module content creation was dynamic and responsive to the artisans involved and their prior knowledge and understanding of the topics, with content for later sessions informed by interactions between tutors and artisans (verbal and homework tasks) from earlier sessions.
Using the pre-prepared slide decks and films, four training sessions were delivered by in-country tutors from August-October 2019 to two groups of 23 artisans.
Two ‘live’ training sessions were also incorporated to consolidate student knowledge through a series of open questions. These live sessions were delivered by AAS from Lews Castle College at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Stornoway via Skype, with a translator (English/Persian) present for both sessions. Twelve examples of each completed homework task were emailed to AAS to provide feedback, which was translated into Persian and returned to artisans as audio.
Tailored training and feedback was provided to 46 artisans in Afghanistan, whose work spanned a range of craft disciplines. Understanding of this training was apparent from the extensive and informed questions asked by the artisans during the live Q&A sessions.
The hybrid remote and in-country delivery model worked well, providing tailored sessions that met the identified training needs of the artisan communities. Having a centralised base in-country to support access to required technology and space was crucial to this success.
Much of the module content focused on natural, sustainable materials, with live discussion about the environmental and economic impact of synthetic textiles imported into Afghanistan. This included discussion of the story-telling required to engage and inform potential consumers about sustainable processes.
The ‘Without Words’ concept of training delivery worked well. It transcended language barriers and was inclusive of artisans who could not read or write. AAS will apply this approach to the Craft Toolkit to maximise its use worldwide, and to Stage II of Crafting Futures Afghanistan.
AAS are currently working with the British Council and new partners to progress Crafting Futures Afghanistan to Stage II in 2020/21, which will build on ‘Design in Craft’ at Stage I.