The Oltrarno neighborhood has long been known to be a hub of artisanal workshops. Rich in culture and history, this artisan quarter is home to many talented professionals whose original creations range from leather goods to designer jewelry, finely tailored clothes, shoes and hats. There are also experts in metalsmithing, etching, and fine art and antique restoration. These craftspeople have dedicated their lives to perfecting their techniques, many of which are centuries old, and this devotion to quality and originality is truly a cultural treasure.
This way of life, as well as some of these art forms, are now in danger of disappearing. Even before the pandemic, many botteghe in the Oltrarno faced numerous barriers to financial success.
The situation in Florence is quickly deteriorating. Countless artisans, especially those who rely on foot traffic, are struggling to keep up with rent and basic necessities. We are seeing more and more shuttered botteghe. One by one, our colleagues and friends are leaving workshops and creative pursuits that have been their lifelong passion.
Luciano Leiva, a fourth-generation leather worker and his wife, Tammara Hsiung, on witnessing this slow exodus of talent and culture, decided to take immediate action. A student of Luciano’s mother, Alicia Roca, I offered my assistance. We began to develop Luciano’s original concept of Artisan Quarter, an association dedicated to supporting a small group of local artisans in our neighborhood of San Frediano. The goals of this association are to preserve what we still have, protect those remaining from financial threat to their livelihoods and promote their work to a wider audience. We designed a model in three phases that would give the artisans greater exposure, wider access to their work online, additional revenue streams and a network for collaboration.
Before long, we had 14 botteghe signed on, representing 22 artisans. We explained the basics of our plan of support: a dynamic website to feature all of our members, an online store curated from their work, original multimedia content, SEO support to boost their brands’ online presence, and promotional ad campaigns in collaboration with bloggers, tour guides and strategic alliances. Longer-range plans include a platform for access to courses and commissions, a collaboration hub, personal shopping services and workshop façade beautification.
We are excited about the opportunities this will bring to our members and the potential it has to help others beyond San Frediano. We also realize significant funding is required to bring our dream to reality. To that end, we have begun a fundraising campaign to help us realize the goals of The Artisan Quarter Association.
Luciano Leiva, co-founder of The Artisan Quarter Association, said, “The organization is designed to scale. If we can succeed with the model here, there is potential to share it with other regions that are struggling with similar circumstances. There is a rebirth happening not just in Florence but around the world. The concept of emerging from a dark past, overcoming adversity with innovation and finding new ways to thrive, is the way forward.”
Visit www.artisanquarter.com to learn more.
Contributions can be made via the site on the GoFundMe page: theflr.net/artisanquarterfundraiser