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  • Writer's pictureByron Alvarado Vanegas

Toquilla straw handicrafts in the Municipal Economuseum "Casa del Sombrero"

A space that promotes the handicraft activity through bonds with master hat weavers.

Description of the study case

It is the only artisan economic museum in the country and belongs to the Municipal Government of Cuenca. It is located in Rafael María Arízaga Street, which was known as the royal road. Around this street, there are buildings of the republican period with great historical value.

The director of the museum has made efforts to organise training courses to pass on the weaving of the toquilla straw hat to new generations to promote the cultural identity. Within its management model, spaces are set aside for artisans to sell their products.

The hat weavers have opted for innovation through the creation of new handicrafts made from toquilla straw (masks, shoes, etc.) and the organisation of contemporary events such as fashion shows or art exhibitions...

Unfortunately, the effects of the strategies implemented in the museum are still unknown, as they are initiatives with long-term results.

For many years, hat weavers have been minimised, as they were subjected to long working hours, in precarious situations and receiving low incomes for this activity...

Intermediaries have contributed to the devaluation of this activity, without realising that as there are few economic benefits, the next generations will not be interested in dedicating themselves to this activity, and therefore the ancestral knowledge related to the weaving of the toquilla straw may disappear.

The actions carried out by the museum have caused a bad relationship with exporters, as its management model seeks to break the current value chain of the hat and give greater prominence to the artisan, who is the one who carries out this activity.

One of the strengths of this museum is the relationship with the artisans, given that its main objective is to link the artisan activity with the management of the museum. The hat weavers come from various localities in Azuay and meet in this space to share experiences and give a live demonstration of hat weaving.

Thanks to the support that the museum has given to artisan activity, many artisans can sell their products directly to users without the need for intermediaries. This model has led the artisans to join the museum and work to improve their services and economic income.

The museum receives national and foreign tourists, although the flow of visitors is low due to its remoteness from the historic centre. Unfortunately, the museum is located in an area that for many years was characterised by a high crime rate. Although the inhabitants of the neighbourhood have worked to eliminate insecurity in the area, this perception remains among the citizens.

To change the image of the neighbourhood, some academic institutions are working in the area to develop tourism products that promote visits. They have worked to improve the facades of the buildings, create murals and promote traditional trades. These activities have strengthened institutional relations between the inhabitants and the museum, and long-term initiatives are planned. Besides, the museum management has created initiatives to promote the use of the hat among the population. As a result, a campaign has been created to prevent skin cancer through the use of the toquilla straw hat, and the museum has also provided hats for public ceremonies, as in the case of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the University of Cuenca.

In conclusion, the Municipal Economuseum “Casa del Sombrero” has had an important work with the local population and has carried out actions that seek to dignify the handicraft activity. Management policies have allowed the museum to be recognised locally. However, inter-institutional cooperation is still required to promote the work of artisans and support their initiatives, to generate a sustainable management model for the museum.

Photo Credits: Byron Alvarado Vanegas

Source: initial information on the Pilot Project generated by the international team of the PREIT-Tour platform in May 2020.

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