Craft Artisans and State Institutions in Sri Lanka
byAnnemari de Silva
Handicrafts have been the subject of many an art history or anthropology study. This present study looks instead at the policy, economy, labour, and welfare considerations of handicrafts and craftspeople. It maps the historical development, mandates and activities of the main state institutions responsible for the protection and promotion of handicrafts in Sri Lanka
and then considers the policies and practices in the crafts sector. The study problematizes certain aspects that underscore the crafts sector, such as the entrepreneur approach to handicrafts and dependence on tourism, and it details production challenges for craftspeople, from sourcing raw materials and dealing with middlemen to purchasing practices and marketing in the digital age.
Though historically artisans have had a gainful relationship with the state, this ecosystem has deteriorated in the recent decades. Craftspeople are often viewed as a charitable project but this study shows that institutional failure,
including financial mismanagement and corruption, has destabilized the handicrafts sector and affected crafts peoples welfare and economy. While the private sector has been a boon, it ultimately has no obligation to be a
protector of handicrafts, even if it is in its interest to promote it. The study thus argues for adequate revision and revitalization of policy and practices by the state.
The cross-cutting findings of this study are relevant to those interested in crafts, tourism, micro entrepreneurship, cultural policy, or the informal economy.