Economic Opportunities for Tibetan Artisans

by Creative Learning Inc.

From October 2012 to 2014, Aid to Artisans (ATA), a division of Creative Learning Inc., implemented the “Nixi Tibetan Cultural Preservation and Economic Empowerment” project, through the Ngwang Choephel Fellows Program. This program is dedicated to the preservation of cultural traditions, enhancement of sustainable development, expansion of economic opportunities, and support of environmental conservation within Tibetan communities in China.  


Funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the project was dedicated to the preservation of a treasured Tibetan cultural tradition, the unique Nixi Black Pottery. It focused on innovative interpretation of ancient designs, development of new markets and increased appreciation of this 1200-year-old tradition by a broader, more affluent audience, beyond the Nixi village.


Over the two project years, with leadership by international ceramics expert Kathy Erteman, assistance from local coordinator and translator Sunnuo Zhuma, and in partnership with other local non-profit organizations, potters upgraded designs, improved techniques, broadened their use of artistic motifs, and added skills for packaging and marketing their wares.Following are the key accomplishments achieved during the life of the program:


  • Established partnership with the Eastern Tibet Training Institute whose mission is to provide people in Eastern Tibet with the skills and resources needed to access new economic and social opportunities.
  • Established connection with the Shangri-la Handcraft Center in Shangri-la townthat aims to provide linkages to Chinese and tourism markets.
  • Established connection with the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, an international center for ceramics.
  • Completed building an eco-effective kiln in Tandui Village near Shangri-la, which enables the potters to fire larger quantities of pots.
  • 40 Nixi potters participated in a capacity building and design workshop in Jingdezhen where they learned how to make porcelain inlays on the Nixi pots.
  • More than 30 new product designs were developed through this workshop.
  • 40 Tibetan Design Handbooks were produced including 30 pages of design motifs, based on the “Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs” by Robert Beers.
  • 3 Packing and Shipping Workshops were organized for developing secure ways to avoid breakage during shipment to the United States.
  • 5 Nixi Potters participated in a 3 week cultural exchange program in the US, visiting 5 cities to learn US pottery techniques, demonstrate their techniques and sell their pots to American and Native American potters.
  • Over 200 US potters attended the demonstrations across the US.
  • Over 150 pots were sold during the 3 weeks US cultural exchange program.


From April 10, 2014 to April 20, 2014, our lead consultant Kathy Erteman travelled to the Tandui Village, in Yunnan Province to conduct two activities: packing and shipping training and the selection of the Nixi potters who will be travelling to the US for a cultural exchange program from June 23 to July 18, 2014.


In conjunction with Sunnuo Zhuma, our local coordinator/translator, Kathy Erteman conducted a packing and shipping training for about 8 artisans. All materials needed for packing pottery, including bubble wrap, foam, boxes, etc… were purchased via a Chinese online store called Tao Bao. These materials were all suitable for safe and professional shipping from the Tandui Village to the US. All the materials arrived smoothly in the village. The training topics include:

  • Assembling cartons, measuring and cutting rigid foam board to line carton for protection of pottery.
  • Labeling pottery with maker and price 
  • Wrapping pottery in foam blanket.
  • Registering contents of each box by piece and maker - see attachment “ box contents”
  • Securing contents from movement during transit.


The artisans received the training very well and were quick to apply what they observed and learned by packing their own boxes which contain 6-10 pieces on average. Every piece was packed securely to prevent breakage. As part of the training, Kathy and Sunnuo shipped 6 boxes to 3 locations in the US to test how long it would take and how well it would arrive. All 6 boxes arrived safely to their destination taking one week to two weeks average, with no breakage. This was terrific improvement.   

Artisans reading instructions
Artisans reading instructions

Economic Opportunities for Tibetan Artisans

Project Update:

The months of November through March bring a harsh winter in the Tandui Village, in Yunnan Province. It prevents access to roads and for the team to implement capacity building and product development workshops with the Tibetan artisans. It is however a great time for the Nixi potters to start developing product collections of black pottery based on the designs they had acquired during the last summer training workshops. The new collection will be sold during the summer exchange program in the US.

During the last few months, our lead consultant, Kathy Erteman, and our local coordinator/translator, Sunnuo have been following up with the artisans on their progress for the production of new black pots. Kathy who is based in the US provided Sunnuo (who lives in China) with a list of designs in order to encourage the artisans to stay focus on what they had already learned while they produce pots. Sunnuo then visited the artisans twice in their village in October and November to give them those designs and to check on their progress. Most potters were able to follow instructions and already produced several lines of products that will be sold in the US.

In order to get ready for the 2014 summer exchange program in the US, we have also been preparing the artisans to get their passport for travel. We have sent them an invite letter, which will then be translated into Chinese by Sunnuo. It is important to start the process early so that there may not be any interruption and last minute change for the program.

On January 13, 2014 there was a fire that destroyed two third of Shangri-la town, which is very close to the Tandui Village where the Nixi Potters live. Shangri-la was a great outlet for the artisans to sell their pots to tourists and the local community. For more information about the fire, please read this article: 2014/01/13/world/asia/china-shangrila-fire/

It is even more imperative after this event, that we provide more opportunities for sales to these Nixi Potters. The summer trip will definitely be a great asset for them and will have a long lasting impact on their community.

New Developed product
New Developed product

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Organization Information

Creative Learning Inc.

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Rachel Landale
Washington, DC United States

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