Tuesday, May 22, 2018

TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List expands its online community to a neighborhood in Paducah, Kentucky!

Earlier in the week I interviewed founder and non-stop advocator of TAFA (the Textile And Fiber Art list), Rachel Biel. Rachel has an exciting new direction for TAFA, one that she explains fully in the following interview:

New visions, new directions are always exciting. You have a new vision for TAFA. What is that new vision? 

I launched TAFA in 2010 when social media was just starting to become a powerful tool in how we communicate on the web. The goal was to create an organization that focused on the business side of running a textile/fiber art business along with creating a destination that truly reflected the best of what is happening in our field around the world.

The membership has grown into a true testament of the innovation and broad reach of our industry, from the historical handmade traditions to experimental approaches involving new technologies. As our focus in on the business side of what we do, most of our members seek to make a living at what they do. This led to creating a sister site, Artizan Made, which has a market that links products back to their shopping platforms (etsy or standalone sites). Visit both: and

The technical hurdles have been overwhelming and I have found myself glued in front of a laptop screen for the last eight years. This has affected me physically in many ways (weight gain, weary eyes, fear of heights) but I am constantly inspired by what our members are doing in their corners of the world. The itch for change set in last year (2017) and I began to see that I could replicate some of what our members are doing and have direct contact with people, both locally and through exchanges. The new vision, then, involves setting up a physical space focused on the arts, culture and sustainability. I am calling it the Green Roof Culture Hub for now.

So this new vision builds on what TAFA has already achieved?

Yes! I have learned a lot about how our field impacts the economy and changes lives around the world. We have many fair trade groups that have effected economic change in their communities; partnerships between designers and remote communities that are documenting, preserving and tweaking traditional practices so that they are viable methods for today’s markets; commercial industries that cater to the supplies our people demand, including organic and safe practices; exchange programs that enrichen participants; an increased use of waste as the supply; studio artists addressing social justice and environmental issues, and the list goes on and on. I love what I see happening through TAFA and want to be involved in that kind of work as well.

Many organisations like TAFA proclaim themselves as ‘international’, but that often means little more than North America and Europe. However, TAFA is truly international, it has members from all parts of the planet. What do you attribute to its global appeal?

I have made a concerted effort to bring in people and groups that are often overlooked by our community, but it’s a huge challenge. Right now we have 44 countries represented on TAFA, but many of those countries have only one or two members from there. I would like to see much more representation from Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Some of the challenges have to do with language and possibly access to technology. We have a one-time join fee of $125 for a lifetime membership and that may be steep for some. But, I also think it is a reasonable price as there are no yearly renewals. As for its appeal, I think it’s both about the quality of the work and a curiosity about the “other”. I am pretty strict about who is accepted into TAFA, looking for authenticity, commitment to the practice, and a professional presentation. 

Tell us about the Green Roof Culture Hub.

In thinking about how I can build on what is already happening, I see TAFA and Artizan Made, our sister site (a collective of handmade shops online), as spokes in a larger wheel. There are other exciting projects happening in Paducah and other people who may need space for their ideas to flourish. I am looking for my tribe here and as I can’t do everything by myself, am offering them a place of collaboration for programs focused on culture, the arts and sustainability. There will be a new website for Green Roof which will serve as a poster board for all of the activities and programs it supports.

TAFA and Artizan Made are currently projects of my art business, Rayela Art. In time, I would like to see parts of what I want to do spin off as non-profits or become member owned. I am 56 years old now and figure I have about 10 more years where I can work hard towards this goal. After that, hopefully, I can enjoy the community and work on my own art work and maybe do some traveling.

I am documenting ideas on my personal site at this point:  I like the name Green Roof because I also have a great interest in green architecture and it points to both sustainability and hosting. Plus, it would really be fun to have a goat on a roof someday!

You have set up the ‘Give a Hand’ fundraising effort. What does that entail, and what do you want to achieve with the fundraiser?

I plan on taking out a mortgage or business loan to get this project going. Unfortunately, my income has been very low since I launched TAFA and I have lived a simple lifestyle. I don’t know how much I can borrow, but am shooting for $100,000, which is not that much for a project like this. I don’t have any savings so am running this fundraiser to raise enough for a down payment and to pay for whatever initial costs there may be. My goal is to raise US$30,000.  The fundraiser will also help me show that there is community backing for my ideas and it will stimulate local interest to see that there is international interest in what happens here.

Public art is a core part of how I want to develop Green Roof’s presence in the neighbourhood I am moving into. I could go ask for money on something like Go Fund Me, but instead, would rather have a true contribution from the funders by having them submit hand art that will be embedded in an installation. Imagine visitors and locals placing their hand on to the hand that someone sent from far away… 300 Hands will make an amazing installation and will reach my goal. This idea is basically the same as a common one used in fundraising where people pay for a brick and get their name on it. I just changed it to make it more personal.

This video is a good example of what I have in mind:

Funders will have a permanent profile on a dedicated page on our new site. The fundraising page has more info and examples of hand art:

The funder profiles are at the bottom of that page for now. They are also thanked on the Facebook pages that I run. Our TAFA page is one of the largest textile ones and has a great following:

Our first hand has been sent in by Melanie Shovelski, a felter and activist from Wyoming!

What other ways can members and non-members support TAFA and its goals?

Any money that comes in right now is going to support my transition to this new project. I still have work to do here in terms of networking and meeting with local people, but it is a challenge financially to meet bills and take that time. Any amount can be sent to my PayPal account,, but I would prefer people got something for their money.

Here are some of the ways beyond the fundraiser:

Artizan Made Membership: $125 plus $12.50/month  
TAFA Sponsorship: $250/year for members, $1,000/year for non-members
Classified Ad: $10/month

Getting the word out and sharing any of these links also helps and gives our people exposure, too.

Sustainability, or lack of it, seems to one of the most pressing problems that we face today. What do you see as being ground work solutions to that problem?

This problem weighs on me heavily. The documentation we see daily of plastic in the oceans and garbage everywhere makes me so depressed. I mourn the loss of habitat and the decimation of our natural world. We all have to blow the horn, stomp our feet and do the best we can to decrease our personal contribution to these problems. The textile industry has a horrible record starting at how fibers are grown, raised or manufactured to the end products and fashion industry. Recycle, reuse, upcycle and educate. The Story of Stuff is a great site to use as an educational tool:

All of us, as makers, need to learn about what materials we are using and move to non-toxic or recycled sources. Many of our members use their art to honk the horn and educate. Janine Heschl from Australia’s machine embroidery are powerful portraits of endangered species, for example.

Tell us about the Flower Power Club.

The neighbourhood I plan on working in is traditionally an African American area that has historical significance for our City. There are many empty lots there along with small houses that were built in the 1970’s by a program similar to Habitat for Humanity. The houses are owned by their residents and are now deteriorating. In thinking about economic development ideas for this neighbourhood, I thought the approach should be about families with these small homes as the main target. The Flower Power Club will be a free membership for any home owner in Paducah, but based in UpperTown.

Members commit to creating a flower theme with their home, staying away from pesticides, going organic, recycling, picking up garbage, and planting bee and bird friendly plants. They have to come to six meetings a year and will have their homes listed on the site. Each Saturday, I will host a potluck and then we will work on a craft together, using garbage. My hope is that some of them will start cottage industries and we can help them sell their work and give them feedback on product design. I will also look for support from local businesses that can give them perks to improve their homes.

I believe that many of these people will actually be open to painting floral designs on their houses. This will transform the neighbourhood and make it a tourist destination. I actually found one resident who is already doing this!

We will also have a product line, Flower Power Art, which will help fund programming. It will be sold through Artizan Made’s market. We do not recycle glass here in Paducah and I weep every time I throw out a bottle. So, we will make bottle bricks and melt them into a variety of crafts. I don’t know how to do this, so will have to find a glass artist to head this project!

 Bottle house on Prince Edward Island

You are a big fan of Earthship Global. Can you tell us more about what Earthship Global is, and why you are such a fan?

Yes! When I first found out about what Michael Reynolds was doing, I watched his videos for hours. He is now my hero. They basically build homes and structures that are completely self-sustaining, all out of garbage. Unfortunately, we are so backward in the United States that much of what he is doing and what I want to do is not allowed, blocked by city or state ordinances. He has to go to remote areas where these laws are not in place, so much of his work has been in the deserts of New Mexico. They also do a lot of work around the world and are now building a teaching site in Puerto Rico where residents can learn how to build small homes out of tires that are hurricane resistant.
I want to send people from here to get trained by them. 

One of the earthship homes. It's just big art to me!

So that ties in with one of your ambitions, which is to build an eco-village?

This is a long-time dream. I’ve worked with the handmade community since the 1992 and grew up in a creative environment in Brazil during the 60’s and 70’s where everyone was making something. About 15 years ago, I was sitting at my desk thinking about the gallery I had in Chicago and how all of this stuff from around the world had stories connected to them that people needed to know more about. I am not a visionary person but that day I sat back and basically watched a video in my head about a place that had structures from around the world with people living in them from those countries, hosting guests and teaching them about those cultures. I explored the idea for about six months, but couldn’t find the right team of people to do it with me.

I’ve adapted some of that to how it could work here in Paducah:

I’ve met with our City Planner and unfortunately, there are State ordinances that would forbid many of these structures. However, we can build small ones, as public art and use them to learn techniques and showcase possibilities that could be adapted if this State becomes more progressive. Aside from all of the garbage that we generate, we are also rich in clay, wood, local stone quarries. 

Batak house, indonesia

Who knows how all of this will unfold? I met a builder recently, scruffy and down to earth, who works on mainstream homes and I showed him a couple of my books on ethnic structures. He didn’t want to put the book down. He had longing in his eyes and said that he has loved this stuff for years and that he spends hours on YouTube watching videos about all of this. These are the people I need to find, the beginning of my tribe!

How can people join and support TAFA?

Members to both TAFA and Artizan Made go through a screening process. They must show a serious body of work, have a professional website or shop and see their work as a business. Both sites have information on how to request membership.

As for others who are not professionals looking for membership, everything we do truly depends on building relationships and community. What happens here in the US does impact life in Australia. We need to build friendships internationally and look for constructive ways in which art can participate in the future of our planet. Start out by becoming familiar with our members and sharing what they do. Buy their work if you can! We all need patrons and supporters.  Leave comments on their profiles so that they know people are seeing them. Just engage on any level that you can. Do it with us, with other groups and with your local community! My mantra has been and continues to be:

“Together we can do great things!”

A note about John: John joined TAFA in the second month after we launched, back in 2010, making him one of our pioneer members. It has been a delight to follow him all of these years and watch Inspirational develop. His advocacy for the arts has been determined and fierce. He reached out and offered exposure for this new venture of mine, which I greatly appreciate. We may have different angles of approaching things, but we raise our voices and stick with it because life without art is a sad place indeed. Please offer your support to John, too, whenever you can!

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