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The Sewing Circle

Hartford Public Library
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Innovation Leader: Homa Naficy, Manager, Multicultural Education and Outreach , naficy@hplct.org

Problem Statement

Immigrant/refugee cultural preservation and social economic integration.

Innovation

The Sewing Circle Project, begun in 2007, is an exciting initiative to encourage production and marketing of traditional crafts among the many immigrant and refugee communities in the Greater Hartford area and across Connecticut. Many immigrants and refugees often lack the certifications, licenses or language skills required to find professional jobs, and often seek small business venues instead of a low-paying job. Creating micro-entrepreneurial opportunities for them helps build communities socially, culturally, and economically.

Initiated by the Institute for Community Research’s (ICR) Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program based in Hartford, the project develops the remarkable skills and traditional arts of these newcomers. Many immigrants have expert skills such as weaving and needlework, but lack resources to pursue their crafts. Though initially launched by ICR the project has become a real collaboration amongst three organizations - ICR, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Resettlement, and Hartford Public Library. Members of the Sewing Circle meet regularly at the Hartford Public Library to work on their art forms, learn new skills, and share coffee and conversation. Empathy and shared immigrant experiences facilitates communication with each other in spite of no shared language. Most participants are elderly refugee war widows, who have escaped severe persecution and genocide.

The library has added value to this rich project, by linking participants to a broader learning environment for them and their families, through computer and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, small business training workshops, collections, such as books on quilting, knitting, beading, etc., and a welcoming and nurturing environment, making them feel at home.

Progress

The library’s supportive environment helps address the isolation most often felt by this population and promotes healing by providing social interaction among the artists, respecting their cultural heritage and artistic traditions, stimulating literacy improvement, and helping develop a marketplace for their artwork. Two or three times a year the Library coordinates events for participants to sell their work. World Refugee Day commemorated around the world on June 20, has drawn over 500 attendees and over 30 cultural exhibitors, and last minute holiday shoppers in December are relieved knowing that they can pick up that special gift for that special person at their local library.