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Mama Diaries

An artisan fair for artisans

By: - Columnist
/ 05:00 AM August 23, 2017

GraceManila home accessories and an exciting launch of new products from Grace Baja

An old friend’s invite to come to a new artisan fair came as a surprise. I had always associated Mel Francisco with the MaArte Fair, a wildly popular Philippine arts, crafts and textiles show.

But her invite was for another event, ArteFino, a name I was unfamiliar with. ArteFino may seem like the new kid in town, but the people behind it are veterans, masters of Philippine crafts shows: Cedie Lopez-
Vargas, Mel Francisco, Mita Rufino, Maritess Pineda and Susie Quiros, who are likewise the original creators and founders of the MaArte Fair, and are responsible for nurturing and building the brand over the past nine years.


Thanks to these women, the state of local bazaars and vendors has been elevated. Gone are the lifeless rows of white stalls overflowing with gaudy trinkets. Instead there are stations that bring us to far-flung mountains and islands where artisans and craftsmen toil to preserve our culture and heritage.

For many years now, these volunteers have given their precious time, effort and personal resources for the annual fundraising project of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, Inc., for the benefit of the National Museum. The time had come, however, to evolve and go beyond one’s self.


“After working on this for so long, you get to know the vendors, you learn about their communities, their stories and their needs,” Mel said.

Concrete help

“ArteFino is an artisan fair for artisans, and we intend to help the artisanal communities which need help,” Mel said.

For many years, unnamed artisans and their talents had helped the fair succeed. It’s time to ensure that these artisans and their communities also share in this success.

However, this was no longer in line with the original thrust of the foundation, and the women of MaArte decided that it was time to let go of their “baby” to take their vision to the next level.

Focus on artisans

“Our thrust now is really focused on the artisans,” Mel said. “We have the skills, the designers, but we are dependent on our communities and we have to take care of them.

“We need sustainability and innovation for our artisans, weavers, craftsmen and builders. We need to make them our partners if we want to keep our living traditions alive.

“The other problem is that the young ones are no longer interested in continuing these artistic traditions. Hopefully, if we can give enough support to their community, give them the necessary tools, training and guidance, we can develop their products well enough for them to earn a significant amount of money which will encourage them to stay and continue their craft.”


Tangible support

When the ladies put up ArteFino, Mel said, “We were adamant that our support would be tangible and lead to concrete results.”

Through the HeArteFino Development Program, which will have its pilot run this year, that is exactly what they have been able to achieve.

Under this social advocacy, ArteFino will give a grant to a chosen designer with the most outstanding brand, and this designer, in turn, will choose an artisan community to develop a line of products for the next fair.

Cult favorite Goodluck Humans

“We have chosen to go further into the process,” Mel said. “We want to go deeper and not just wait for the goods to come to us. We want to have a role in product and community development.”

The community members are trained and given livelihood and financial guidance, sewing machines, raw materials and logistical support needed to travel from their various communities to the meeting areas where they can get the materials and bring their finished products.

Collaborative process

The chosen designer recommends the community based on his or her experience and ability to monitor the progress throughout the year.

For the pilot run, the chosen beneficiary is a Bagobo tribe from various communities in Mt. Apo, Davao.

Together with designer Zarah Juan and the Echosi foundation, ArteFino has been working to support artistic and cultural traditions through relevant training, tangible help and product creation.

“It takes six months to design, procure the necessary items and produce—these are slow production items. You have to respect that,” Mel said. “And that is why you put a value to these items because you are including everything in the process—time, skill, history of the people and their future—in the price of the items.”

Aside from the generous income that members of the community will be receiving, they will also have the tools needed to proceed on their own and hopefully, use these for a sustained livelihood.

For the coming fair, Ito Kish has come on board. Wynn Wynn Ong has prepared a special section called “Stilo ArteFIno” with one-of-a-kind creations by the country’s most high-profile, leading designers such as Kenneth Cobonpue and Bea Valdes, among others.

They will also be awarding the Best Booth Design, Best Product and Most Innovative Product to be presented by Lexus, a major sponsor. And of course, they will announce this year’s recipient of the HeArteFino Development Program, Zarah Juan.

ArteFino will run Aug. 25-27 at the Penthouse of 8 Rockwell. Visit

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