Monday, December 13, 2010

Artisan Expo Success

Since Thursday, I've been in Dakar prepping for the Artisan Expo, running the Artisan Expo, and today wrapping things up and recovering from the Expo. While I'm completely exhausted, the Artisan Expo was an amazing success. It was pretty awesome.

Saturday morning Tamar, Katherine and I arrived at the American Club at 9am to start setting up. We were not the first people there. No matter what I tell artisans, that no one is coming until 10am, that the tables wont be out, and that there will be no further instructions until 9am, they still arrive ridiculously early at around 7am. Madame Ly had been at the club since before 7 and had already set up most of her stuff before we arrived. There is a fear among the artisans that if they aren't there ridiculously early they'll miss customers. This is only interesting since time usually doesn't matter here.

All of the artisans arrived except for one (that one artisan actually only came to the Expo on Sunday) and all of the PCVs running the Expo immediately started purchasing holiday gifts. We wanted to make sure that we got all of the best stuff so I went around introducing myself and buying a ton of presents to take home. Eleven new artisans attended this year and brought some really cool and different products. Basari artists came all the way from Kedougou which is the southeastern corner of the country. Basari people are a traditional, tribal, ethnic group who make pretty great jewelry. As you'll see from the pictures everything looks surprisingly Native American with intricate bead work and patterns. I also stopped by the wood carver booths to look for bowls and wood jewelry, a boutique owner who made special Christmas ornaments, the basket weavers, leather maker, cloth dyers, and a couple other artists. Hey, I haven't been shopping in months and months. It was pretty exciting.

All day Saturday went pretty smoothly. The main complaint from the artisans was that Katherine and I picked a bad weekend for the Expo because it was overcast. This was obviously my fault. It was also weird since it's probably the only weekend of my entire service, excluding the rainy season, when the weather has been overcast. I was freezing cold. Yes, I know that it's actually freezing cold in the homeland and that it's quite humorous that I was shivering at 75 degrees. I was worried that the Expo wouldn't draw as many customers because it was overcast and people weren't coming to use the pool, but we had a steady stream of customers all day. The most exciting aspect of all those customers was how they found out about the Expo. The day before Thanksgiving and then the day before the Expo Katherine and I pounded the pavement in downtown Dakar flyering for the Expo. This hard work definitely paid off. I wrote a customer survey in order to obtain some market research of who's coming to the Expo and a lot of people responded that this was the first time at the Expo and that they had seen our flyers in Dakar! Success! By the end of the day Saturday, I had a giant pile of artisanal goods stashed under Madame Ly's table and we had a pretty good idea that the Expo was going well. We were on track to beat last year's total.

Sunday morning dawned and the artisans beat us back to the Atlantic Club. Even Madame Ly beat us who hates staying in Dakar so much that she went back to Thies to sleep in her own bed and then woke up extra early to beat it back to Dakar. Insanity. I spent Saturday night after the Expo making a Hanukkah dinner for 9 of my friends. That means I found brisket in Africa and grated 5 kilos of potatoes. There is photo evidence. After the artisans set up all of their goods Sunday morning, Talla, the Peace Corps trainer, led a training. The Expo has been going on for several years and is currently organized, funded, and led by volunteers. In the hopes of slowly delegating responsibility to the artisans themselves, we want the artisans to join together and make an artists' association. I didn't have high hopes for this training because I didn't think that the artisans would be receptive to the idea, but I was wrong. They loved the idea of forming an association, taking a greater role at the Expo, and working together.

At the end of the training Talla skipped out of the room and the artisans took over and elected two co-presidents, one of them being Madame Ly!, to organize the association and disseminate information. This was a great first step so I hope they continue. Throughout the day they collected each other's contact information and talked about collaborating with each other. They even made their first deal. The leather worker from Mboro is going to make leather handles for the tailor in Bambay to attach to his cloth bags. Several artisans also commented to their volunteers that it was great to have competition and see what they're competitors are doing. Some artisans realized that they really need to step up their game while others got new ideas for marketing and product development. One of the artisans is actually a boutique owner in Kaolack and she bought products from several of the artisans further strengthening the association. There were also several boutique owners in Dakar who saw our flyers and came to the event to purchase goods. It was great. The boutique owners took the artisans' information and they will hopefully continue to work together.

All of this collaboration, new customers attending the Expo, and a million PCVs milling around buying presents pointed to big sales. I was pretty sure that we were going to beat last year's total, but I had absolutely no idea that we were going to absolutely destroy it. The Expo was Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. In fourteen hours the artisans sold three million two hundred three thousand two hundred CFA!!! That's 3,203,200 CFA!!! Last year total sales were around 1.5 million CFA. If you add in all of the pre-sales that PCVs order and the sales that transpired at the All Volunteer Conference last week the total increases to 3,837,700!!! That's almost eight thousand U.S. dollars. Madame Ly and Dioss made a combined 1,243,000 which is over two thousand U.S. dollars. Needless to say everyone was very happy with the sales and it was extremely humbling and gratifying when all of the artisans came to thank me and sing the praises of this year's Expo. It was great.

After all of the headaches I've had putting the Artisan Expo together it was great to have positive feedback, huge sales numbers, and very happy artisans and volunteers. Check out all of the pictures from the Expo in the "Softball Season" album.


  1. Alyssa,

    Fantastic, job well done by all.


  2. Well there you go again- making a difference.
    What a huge success, congratulations .
    We all can't wait for you all to be travels
    Jo Ellen

  3. JO said it all! I am so happy for you girls! Wow!

  4. Alyssa, congratulations on pulling off an awesome event! I know how hard you have been working on this and I’m so proud of you. However I’m concerned that if 75 degrees is freezing cold how you are going to fair in Michigan…

  5. Way to go Alyssa! It's amazing what a bunch of flyers can do to help sales. We are all getting excited to see you. Have a safe and easy trip home.

  6. Wonderful photos of the Art Expo... Beautiful artwork, beautiful people..
    Congratulations on the success : )