Half a year GTP – in one blog!
Half a year has gone by and I am over half of my around-the-world-trip. Time for an update! And why not do thinks radically while I’m at it? A new house-style, a new logo and a new name! That is: it’s still GTP, but now it will stand for Global Talent Project in stead of Global Trade Project. What’s in a name, right? well, I don’t have a clue. But I figured that judging from the amount of trade that has been going on and the focus of my efforts to find talent rather than stuff that would be commercially interesting, it seems more to the point. The name Global Trade Project will still pop up every now and again (facebook seems particularly itchy when it comes to changing names), but just for your reference: the realms of the internet will now also direct you to this website should you decide to digitally launch yourself to www.globaltalentproject.com!
Well, I’d better give you an update on what’s happening. First of all, I am writing this under a palm tree, a view over rise paddies with some demon-looking ornamental structures in the distance, butterflies souring round my head, the sounds of birds chirping, roosters crowing, a distant hammering on wood and the unmistakable sound of the gamelan being played just over the hill. I am back to the ‘Good Life’ in Bali after three years of wandering around the planet. Not that I’ve been travelling for three years. It was three years ago that I decided for the first time that I wanted to see more of the world and ‘contribute in any way’. Although I’m Dutch, I spoke sufficient English to pass on the knowledge and I decided to ‘travel to teach’ in Bali. Little did I know that this step would fuel me with both a travel-addiction as a profound longing for Bali every time I so much as spotted a scooter.
After having a proper job for two years in Holland I found myself yet again in the fortunate position to travel and decided this time to do something unique and of my own. I started ‘travel to trade’ and set up this website with the name of Global Trade Project. The plan: travel around the world in search for talented artists to help them in their digital promotion and aid them in setting up fair trade. 19 artists and a dozen or so musicians later I’ve arrived back in Bali, completing a lifelong dream of mine: travelling around the world!
Ok, so what happened in this first half year of the GTP? I learned a lot, for one thing. But that comes to no surprise, considering I set on my way without being hindered by any experience whatsoever. I never made video’s before, the last time I built a website was when people started using ‘flash’. My negotiating skills where limited to saying ‘please’ and I always thought ‘art’ was short for ‘Amid Ridicule & Tragedy’.
I still feel this way about art sometimes, but during my search for talent I discovered a whole new world that I wouldn’t have missed for… the world! At least I know a lot better what is available and what I like! And, what’s more important, I’ve met a vast amount of interesting, creative people out there, that all share one common factor: they’ve got talent! Around each of these artists there’s a story to tell. Not only about the process of finding them, or the things that happened during my visits, but of their lives itself and how they became an artist and live their life the way they do.
It is amazing how creative expression has different meanings for everyone. For some the only reason might simply be an economical stimulant like, for example, the unlimited friendly, but extremely poor Edison and Rosa from Nicaragua, who have only the natural resources provided to them to make their jewellery besides working their land. Some just have it in their blood and they would probably get some terrible rash if they didn’t express themselves creatively. For others it is the route to salvation from a life of misfortune and criminality, like Neal Baron, the talented butterfly artist in Belize or Memo from Colombia, who was literally saved by a western tourist that made it his personal project to get him on the right track. The stories are compelling and sometimes tragic, but it always has a happy ending. They found a way to make their living while doing what they like and making people happy with their work.
So, was I able to make a difference? In some cases I think I was. The video’s are online for the world to see and sometimes someone happens to randomly bump in to them and decides to contact me. This is for example the case for Sergio Alvarado and Josué Hernandez, two promising artists I visited in Guatemala. The smaller jewellery like Gonzalez‘ coconut art from Costa Rica or Janneth’s glass-jewellery from Colombia have not been inquired upon, but at least I sold most of those jewellery to people that follow the project. Mostly I just hope to point people in the right direction when they visit a country or a region. What’s not to like if you ever find yourself near CASEM and Patricia’s art in Monteverde (Costa Rica), or the traditionally handmade wool-craft from the ladies in Chinchero (Peru)? From some of these I might buy more in the future. The art-work from Quipus for example, can now be admired at my fathers place in Holland and more paintings are still to come. Some other work, like the big wooden sculptures of Tony from Belize, Utzil’s traditionally dressed dolls (Guatamala) or Marcelo’s woollen sweaters from Ecuador are difficult and mainly pricey to ship. But who knows! Stranger and larger shipments have made it across the oceans and it just takes a little VOC-mentality! (according to some former minister president from The Netherlands)
It isn’t always easy to stay in contact though. Some of the artists don’t have email, let alone internet access and thus communication has to be done via other people’s email-addresses. This was for example the case for Carmen, the Wayu lady from Colombia that made the typical handbags. Future trade with the Wayu will be challenging to say the least. But as I am optimistic by hart, I figure I could always go back! Right?
The biggest challenge I faced however, was taking care of the back-office. More precise: getting the art to the customers. In my enthusiasm I thought that any jewellery that could make it to Holland, could make it to anywhere in Holland! This turned out to be true, but I didn’t count in the fact that it would take multiple months before I could find a friend that was able to get it from Utrecht to Lochem (thank you Thijs!). This taught me two important lessons. One: I need help from someone back in Holland; and two: I will never (ever!) again buy a bag of jewellery and let all the individual pieces be sold separately. Headache! But even if this wasn’t a great success, me and my customers had a lot of fun mailing back and forth that ‘it-would-only-take-a-week-more’! hehe, sorry people!
Another challenge of doing-it-wile-you-go is getting people to actually see and appreciate the artists. My marketing is sadness in its purest form. It virtually doesn’t exist. Granted, I’m not the best marketeer in the world, but the main problem is: I simply don’t have the time to get people to start paying notice. My strategy is to hope that people who like it, actually LIKE IT and tell their friends, who will tell their friends andsoforth. I think the snow has yet to fall to create this snowball effect. However,the beauty of internet is that stuff is eternal and I’m still keeping my hopes up that some of the amazing artists that I’ve found will be discovered in one form or another.
My sandwich/gallo pinto/coconut/mie goreng was always far too little to actually make my living doing this, let alone paying for ANY expenses, making the GTP perhaps one of the most pitiful businesses in the world (that’s right, it’s a business!), but I always considered this journey more of an investment in experience rather than money. And who knows? People have earned their living doing stranger stuff!
For example, I could start focussing my efforts on buying in bulk and seeing where that will take me (and I might later), but for now I just want to continue looking for talent without the continues worry of not being able to sell what I buy. Consider for example the work of the last three painters on the GTP: Celedón, with his typical paintings from Valparaiso (Chile), Bousquet with his sur-realist art from Polynesia or Ruth Killoran with her dazzling work of birds and circles (New Zealand). How would I ever be able to buy that in bulk? And then I’ve not even considered the more remote artists like the woodcarvers from Easter Island. In other words: I’ll stick to my philosophy that an idea will start making money by itself, if it’s good enough.
And so I go on. A continues search for local talented artist around the world. Each and every one of those with their own unique story and creative expression. A quest that gets me in contact with some of the most extraordinary people this world has to offer and in most cases they really appreciate to be put in the spotlight for once. After all, most of them do not have the knowledge or the means to digitally promote themselves. Of course, I hope to start something more sustainable than a short visit, a video, a blog and sometimes a buy, but at least the effort is greatly appreciated amongst the artists and the continues phrase of “hmm, that’s a good idea!” will keep me going for the next half year of GTP, until the money runs out. Talent has to be discovered, be part of it and follow me on my quest to digitally put talent in the spotlight!