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When a country is in turmoil, the arts can be the first thing to go. Fortunately for Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain Arts is reviving traditional Afghan arts, architecture and crafts.

Turquoise Mountain Arts is an institute that seeks to bring back traditional Afghan art by training artisans in four schools: calligraphy and miniature painting, woodwork, jewelry and ceramics.

Historically, Afghanistan was an important cultural center for a variety of Islamic arts that have unfortunately fallen to the wayside under the various conflicts that have disrupted life in the country. Traditionally, the Afghan arts and crafts industry is a source of pride and a respectable way for a person to make a living.

Turquoise Mountain Arts helps the Afghan community in more ways than preserving traditional art forms. Since the institute was fully established in 2006, nearly 1.5 million dollars of traditional Afghan crafts have been sold, with that money going back to Afghan artisans.

When the institute turns a profit, it reinvests in itself, putting the money back toward artisans and students so that they can continue to learn and produce art. Additionally, the different arts practiced at Turquoise Mountain Arts help keep valuable natural resources, such as wood, precious stones and metals within the country. The institute also “provides education and employment for over 400 students, teachers, engineers, architects, and construction workers.”

The heads of each of the individual colleges are all Afghan citizens, and whenever there is an opening for new professors, representatives from the institute head straight to Kabul’s craft district.

Before Turquoise Mountain opened, there were no schools focused on preserving and teaching traditional art in Afghanistan. However, since its founding, smaller schools and programs have opened up throughout the country.

The apprenticeship style program is highly beneficial for artisans, who are taught for three years before going out on their own, and are given internationally recognized “City and Guilds” accreditation upon graduation.

Graduates also receive support as they go into the craft market to start their own businesses and further preserve cultural heritage by transferring their knowledge to new workers.

With growing national recognition in addition to international markets in Canada, Britain and Arab countries like Qatar, Turquoise Mountain Arts Institute is helping to preserve Afghan culture and art, and provide respectable employment for citizens.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: Turquoise Mountain Arts, Islamic Arts