Aid to Artisans was founded in 1976 by James and Mary Plaut. James Plaut, former Secretary General for the World Craft Council, started ATA based on his deep concern for helping to preserve the vitality, culture and craft of artisans around the world. The goal was to give artisans practical assistance selling their products thus providing them with sustainable streams of income. With this in mind, ATA began importing high quality crafts and selling them to museum stores in the United States under the assumption that this was the most fertile market for handcrafts.
In 1979, Clare Brett Smith became an ATA board member. Clare, a world traveler and passionate advocate of craft, owned an import company at the time called Primitive Artisans.
In November of 1985, Clare Brett Smith became President of ATA. Clare’s import experience and considerable knowledge of the market, craft and culture helped her build ATA into an internationally recognized nonprofit that would become the leader in serving the needs artisans in more than 110 countries around the world.
Clare realized that ATA needed move away from the limited museum store market to a broader strategy of providing artisan groups with product development assistance, market access and business training: three services that remain at the core of ATA’s model today.
Under Clare’s leadership from 1998 to 2005, ATA and its partners delivered critical product development, training and marketing services to 65,000 artisans in 41 countries and an additional 60,000 artisans received small grants. Seventy-two percent of these artisans were women. During this period, ATA’s sales efforts leveraged nearly $230 million in retail commerce, a testament to ATA’s ability to help reach artisans who were completely unfamiliar with export.
David O’Connor took over as President of Aid to Artisans in 2005.
David brought to ATA extensive experience working around the world in many different leadership capacities. His expertise includes his role as former Peace Corps Country Director in China, Nepal and Moldova, 10 years working with USAID/The Noor Al Hussein Foundation in Amman, Jordan, and five years working as a Director of Craft Programs for Save the Children.
As ATA looks to the future, we are focusing more closely on tailoring our services to artisans’ needs and the demands of the marketplace. This includes assisting with access to local markets, which account for about half of our sales, as well as expanding artisans’ ability to reach more regional and export markets and target sectors such as tourism.
Additionally, our eco-effective processes are foundational to our methodology and are integrated into our product development, training and marketing. As consumers continue to become more educated on the value of environmentally and socially responsible purchasing, they will drive up the market demand and artisans will be able to compete effectively. These sales bring artisans lasting income while helping to bring healthy and environmentally sound businesses to their families and communities.
It’s difficult to talk about progress and the future without mention of technology. We are forging new paths in using technology to bring our services to more and more artisans and craft organizations. ATA University is one such initiative.
We continually assess the marketplace and make strides to ensure that we are equipping artisans with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed. We are committed to serving artisans, assisting them to build their businesses and getting them on the road to self-reliance.
Alfredo Espinosa became ATA’s fourth President in 2011, bringing extensive experience as a non-profit manager in the cultural and sustainable development fields. He formerly was chief executive officer of the Mexican Rural Development Foundation, which, among other activities, helped establish micro enterprises that have benefited thousands of low-income rural families, including artisans. After completing his MBA at Columbia University, Espinosa worked as an international management consultant for corporations, as well as non-profit entities, including as Senior Director of Global Business Development at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
ATA is a recognized leader in economic development within the global crafts sector. Since its founding in 1976, the organization has worked in more than 110 countries assisting artisans to improve the quality and marketing of their products. ATA provides design, training and marketing assistance, in collaboration with partnership organizations with more than 30,000 artisans annually participating in ATA programs. We continually assess the marketplace and make strides to ensure that we are equipping artisans with the knowledge and skills needed to build successful businesses.
In October 2012, ATA joined Creative Learning, a Washington, DC, based non-profit organization, to strengthen and expand its ability to implement artisan development initiatives worldwide. William J. Kruvant, leader of numerous efforts in international development, accepted the responsibility of becoming the President and CEO of the new, combined institution. In collaboration with ATA program management staff and Creative Learning experts, he is dedicated to making ATA and its mission an integral part of international enterprise development, cultural preservation, income and job generation, and economic development initiatives.