I read the NY Times online during multiple intervals daily, watch the stock market numbers slide and climb, and though I’m not even close to being an economist, I can understand a good part of what’s happening in our global economy thanks to the opinion moguls like Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Bob Herbert, Maureen Dowd, and Frank Rich. Good interpretation matters. I live in North Carolina, the “other” land of banking, and was proud, a few months ago, that the residential real estate decline hadn’t hit Charlotte. But, now — life is topsy turvy and not at all predictable. Wachovia will be owned by Wells Fargo and my retirement fund is tanked. I’ve heard the rhetoric change from “bailout” to “rescue” and a bunch of plans put forward to stimulate the economy.
Eric Chavez Santiago has been here in an artists residency for the past two weeks with his sister Janet. They are weavers who work with natural dyes from the village of Teotitlan del Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico. This week, the peso was valued at 13 to the dollar, the strongest the dollar has been against the peso in quite some time. We have no idea WHY? During the workshops, exhibitions and lectures that Eric and Janet have been giving, people are coming and definitely showing interest in the weaving and natural dyeing process. The fact that a small Zapotec village is using sustainable environmental practices is an important point to share. Some of the people attending are even buying rugs, although their choices for the most part are for smaller, under $200 pieces, rather than the larger, more complex and costlier pieces on exhibit. Few are using credit cards. As we get ready to wrap up this visit with Eric and Janet, we’ve have longer discussions about what the future will bring.
This is Eric’s fifth trip to North Carolina in the last two years. Now, he is employed full-time at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and his interests are evolving. He is becoming more immersed in the use of natural dyes, wants to do more experimentation, and is focusing on teaching rather than on selling rugs. As the stock market climbs, plummets, responds to our position in the global marketplace as an interdependent nation linked to European and Asian monetary systems, I see the effects. Eric may not be able to depend upon the retail marketplace to sustain his family — but he can rely on his intelligence and knowledge to earn a steady income working in a great museum doing something he loves.
Eric and Janet talk about the unpredictability of being able to sell a rug here and there to put food on the family table in their village. But, they can depend on what they know, have learned and will continue to learn. Their knowledge will have marketability, perhaps more so than the art they make that is so time consuming to create and dependent on taste whims, trends, and tourism. They will be able to lecture and teach to impart knowledge far into the future. This will have lasting value. But what will happen to the textiles if sales slow? Will the art be abandoned? Will we only be able to see these textiles in museums in 20 or 50 years?
So, Eric does not know when he may return to North Carolina or the U.S. Perhaps he will return but not as frequently and for different purposes. If his sister becomes a teacher of linguistics and his brother becomes an engineer or doctor, and he becomes an international expert on textile art, who will be the creators of the art?
So, as We The People invest in rescuing the banks to increase liquidity, who will invest in rescuing the art and the culture that creates the art?