Making art to make a difference at Arlington’s International Folk Art Market

ARLINGTON -- Shoppers at the International Folk Art Market at UT-Arlington may have thought they were simply buying some neat decor or clothing from some of the 30 countries that were represented.  But at one booth their purchases were actually supporting a women's empowerment program in Cambodia.

"This is such a big opportunity for me because without [the money we make in the United States] we cannot go out of Cambodia and show to the world what we are doing, and how good we are," says Chantha Nguon, founder of the Stung Treng Women's Development Centre which gives women jobs as silk-weavers and provides them with education and health care.

Nguon's own daughter, Clara, was a beneficiary of the program, earning a scholarship to and recently graduating from Sewanee (The University of the South) in Tennessee.  She was the first female from not just her family but her whole village to attend college!

"The women, on average, in that village had eight to 11 children," recalls Clara.  "But after two generations [of] our center now the average they have is between two and three children.  That's a big difference; that's the idea of a Western world where women are more independent."

The silk products made at the center are sold under the name Mekong Blue, and with most of Cambodia living on less than $3 per day the profits the Nguons make at just the three-day Arlington event and a three-day sister event in New Mexico can be enough to fund the organization for a whole year!  Coming from poverty is a common theme among the artisans who brought their wares to the market, and after last year's inaugural event resulted in $160,000 in sales there were 700 applications to get in on this year's action.  Only 42 made the cut--determined by a group of art historians, museum curators, and other artists to ensure the highest quality was on display--but organizers hope the market's growing popularity will lead to more people being included.

"We want to expand in the future," says the Arlington market's co-chair, Linda Dipert.  "When we outgrow this space, we'll move to a bigger space.  We're not putting any limits on it."

And why should they?  After all, what better place to experience the American Dream than in the American Dream City!