The Role of Creative Industries in the Empowerment of Marginalised Mountain Communities: A Case Study of Aldeias de Montanha, Portugal

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By Ana Margarida Silva (Centre for Intercultural Studies [CEI, ISCAP-P.PORTO])

Meet the Aldeias de Montanha, a group of villages located in the centre of Portugal between the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela and the protected landscape of Serra da Gardunha. These villages lie within the municipalities of Covilhã, Seia, Guarda, Manteigas, Celorico da Beira, Oliveira do Hospital, Gouveia, Fundão, and Fornos de Algodres. Working to support these territories, the Aldeias de Montanha Project focuses on nature, heritage, culture, well-being, and quality of life and represents three key areas of interest: nature, people (tradition and culture), and gastronomy.

Introducing Social Innovation through ADIRAM: Drivers of Tourism Development in Central Portugal

The empowerment of marginalised mountainous communities is essential. In the central Portuguese region, the Association for the Integrated Development of the Aldeias de Montanha Network (ADIRAM) with the Aldeias de Montanha Project seeks to promote the regional development of these marginalised mountainous territories. Such efforts hold enormous potential, particularly in the realm of tourism-driven development (Silva & Santos, 2022).

Zêzere Glacial Valley (Source: Aldeias de Montanha)

ADIRAM supports the development of several social innovation projects. Social innovation in this sense refers to the process of developing and implementing new ideas, strategies, or solutions to address social issues and bring about positive societal change. These issues may range from poverty, inequality, and environmental sustainability to healthcare, education, and community development. ADIRAM’s Aldeias de Montanha project encompasses the Queijeiras Project and the Cooperative Spaces – Coworks @Aldeias de Montanha Project, both of which use elements borrowed from the creative industries and aim to empower the communities located in Aldeias de Montanha.

Terraces of Loriga (Source: Pedro Ribeiro)

The Queijeiras Project: How can traditional knowledge, arts, and crafts help empower marginalised mountainous communities?

Some women, despite their unique and fundamental roles, today and in all sectors of society still do not receive fair personal and professional recognition. The “Queijeiras,” or women cheese makers, of Serra da Estrela are one example. They are responsible for one of the region’s most traditional and authentic products, the Serra da Estrela cheese, which has been recognised nationally and internationally for its excellence. To value their art and knowledge, the Queijeiras Project was developed and promotes the work of these extraordinary women (Queijeiras, 2021):

This is a project for women, carried out by women. It will benefit (at least) 40 “Queijeiras” from 9 municipalities, but we have the ambition to increase this number. The “Queijeiras” project arises to honour these women and contribute to their personal and professional development.

The Queijeiras Project empowers women cheesemakers through the appreciation and promotion of their work, which holds immense traditional importance for the region (Silva & Santos, 2022). How? Queijeiras supports social innovation with three creative steps (Queijeiras, 2021):

  1. Design: the establishment of an exclusive burel cape in support of local innovation;
  2. Content production: the publication of a book celebrating the local cheese-making tradition;
  3. Training: organised soft skills trainings to further knowledge sharing.

Some of the “Queijeiras” with the Burel cape “Queijeira” (adapted from Queijeiras)

Elements of fashion became a part of the Queijeiras Project through the creation of a burel cape, or a type of shepherd’s cape. This was designed as an exclusive piece by Sandra Pinho and produced with the support of the Burel Factory. Inspiration for its design was taken from the values and identity of the Queijeiras, which also led the cape to be made of burel, a Portuguese handcrafted fabric made from wool from the Serra da Estrela sheep of the Bordaleira, Churra, and Merina types. The cape is called Queijeira and is drawn from the circle, the shape of the Serra da Estrela cheese. The cape can be purchased here in different colours, each representing an expression of personality associated with a different attribute: serenity, strength, wisdom, and determination. Generated profits provide tools to empower the women cheesemakers personally and professionally, including an entrepreneurship course that trains soft skills.

The Queijeiras Project links knowledge and flavours to design, fashion, and female empowerment. As part of the cultural and creative industries, the project’s design element brings recognition to women cheesemakers, as does the book As Histórias das Guardiãs da Montanha (The Stories of the Guardians of the Mountain) and the project’s promotion through television and online media.

The Cooperative Spaces – Coworks @Aldeias de Montanha Project: From Local to Global Sustainable Co-Working

The Cooperative Spaces – Coworks @Aldeias de Montanha Project has established several co-working spaces in the territories of the Aldeias de Montanha. Co-working spaces are shared work environments where individuals and businesses work independently or collaboratively in a shared setting, often providing amenities and fostering a sense of community. Currently, eight co-working spaces have been established in the villages of Alvoco das Várzeas, Videmonte, Alpedrinha, Lapa dos Dinheiros, Cortes do Meio, Folgosinho, Rapa, and Algodres.

The Cooperative Spaces – Coworks @Aldeias de Montanha Project is an innovative way of creating dynamic and sustainable networking and knowledge transfer opportunities for and with the villages in which they are situated. As ADIRAM (Aldeias de Montanha-Cowork, 2020) points out:

Using regional resources, such as the artisan’s labour, or the piece of handicraft produced in the region, or re-using end-of-life objects, recycling them, or restoring them, makes this a project with a strong ecological component, importing concepts such as eco design and circular economy. These are spaces that have their own identity, they are creative spaces for enterprising and creative people who are looking for a better life, a quieter life, without losing productivity and relationships with other peers, with whom they can exchange ideas and experiences. It is a space for cooperation and interaction.

In these co-working spaces, built in renewed, previously abandoned, or unused houses, the local and the global interact. Local cultures are represented in all elements of the spaces’ architectural and landscaping design, while a broader, global perspective is promoted by the businesses run within them. This link between the local and the global is intensified by their online presence on websites and social media, which attracts people from all over the world (Silva & Santos, 2022).

Co-working spaces (adapted from ADIRAM, 2021)

These co-working spaces make use of products that draw attention to the importance of sustainability, thus spreading Portuguese culture in a responsible way. The conscious presentation of traditional products promotes a respect for nature and the nearby mountains throughout and to all international and local guests (Silva & Santos, 2022).

Co-working space of Alvoco das Várzeas, (adapted from Turismo de Oliveira do Hospital)

How does ADIRAM empower marginalised mountainous communities?

The work of ADIRAM in the Aldeias de Montanha territories has shown the enormous creative and cultural potential present within the history and traditions of these communities. In the context of today’s social and environmental change, it is important to create strategies that support adaptability to new situations. Projects such as Queijeiras and Cooperative Spaces – Coworks @Aldeias de Montanha build new possibilities for social innovation and transformation in marginalised mountain regions.

The Queijeiras and Cooperative Spaces – Coworks @Aldeias de Montanha Projects build new links to empower Aldeias de Montanha communities by using creative and sustainable approaches. This is particularly important in tackling the inequalities faced by marginalised populations and supporting them within a globalised world (Silva & Santos, 2022). Local communities can thus continue to recognise their economic value while finding new ways to develop the cultural heritage in which they live.

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