‘Um Cento de Cestos’ exhibition at Popular Art Museum photographed by José Paulo Ruas © DGPC/ADF
Master weaver Helena Rosa in Mértola photographed by Fatima Durkee © Passa Ao Futuro
“I am most proud of the positive impact that some of our projects have had in some artisans’ lives.”
Collaboration is a powerful tool for solving problems, and non-profit organisation Passa Ao Futuro is harnessing this power to preserve the cultural heritage of Portuguese artisans and craftspeople, at once protecting history, livelihoods, and the environment. Since its founding in 2016, Passa Ao Futuro has focused on research, collaborative projects, and social and environmental impact programming, working as a team of architects, social entrepreneurs, a designer, and a design curator in partnership with several organisations in Portugal and across the world. De La Espada is a proud sponsor of their work, including their activities as partners of the Made In Platform, an initiative, currently involving 10 partners across 6 countries, that promotes craft by encouraging collaboration and knowledge exchange between traditional craftspeople and contemporary designers. Passa Ao Futuro co-founder Astrid Suzano recently sat down with us to share more about the work they are doing, their upcoming residencies, and her personal journey.
Portuguese by heritage and born in Paris, Astrid Suzano grew up in Lisbon from the age of eight. Though not always interested in craft, she remembers it being prominent in her early life: her mother and aunt were both skilled embroiderers who learned from their own mother, and her paternal grandmother made baskets to use on her farm and weaved carpets from damaged clothes. “Crafts were pretty much part of my life from a young age but, unfortunately, I didn't feel any special interest back then as I felt they were part of the past… I believe this was a generalised feeling because we were all so used to being around hand crafted objects; we always took them for granted. Only recently, after realising they could disappear, I felt the need to do something about this collective memory and cultural patrimony.”
It was her time spent living in Mexico City as a young adult that first ignited her interest in craft. She moved there after receiving her education in architecture from universities in Lisbon and Weimar, Germany and beginning her architecture career in Rotterdam. “Mexico is extremely rich in craftsmanship and they are extremely proud of it. It is something that is respected, celebrated and valorised. I think while living there I became more aware of the crafts in general and, once I moved back to Portugal in 2013, I started seeing our crafts in a different way,” she explains. “Unfortunately, back then the crafts were not valorised or celebrated in Portugal as in Mexico.”
Fatima Durkee and Astrid Suzano photographed by Matilde Fieschi
Suzano started understanding the role of craft heritage in local identity, as well as the social implications of preserving and supporting craft to protect livelihoods. She also realised how contemporary design could benefit from crafts: to expand design possibilities, to promote more responsible consumption, and to foster a deeper appreciation of an object and its origins.
When Suzano started travelling with Passa Ao Futuro co-founder Fatima Durkee, also a trained architect, to visit craftspeople around Portugal, her interest in crafts became more intense as she realised more fully the great variety in Portugal and the work that can be done to support them. Equipped with their design backgrounds, Astrid and Fatima “were compelled to think about new uses, new objects for some of the crafts that felt a bit lost in time, and how to make them relevant in contemporary society.”
Part of that work involves changing the way people perceive crafts.“Some people are even a bit ashamed of crafts [in Portugal] as, particularly the rural ones, are still very much associated with the dictatorship period, and there is a love/hate relationship with it because of that. It is very much linked with a hard and poor life and that mindset has to be changed.”
‘Um Cento de Cestos’ exhibition at Popular Art Museum photographed by José Paulo Ruas © DGPC/ADF
One way the organisation is working to change this mindset is by sharing knowledge and tools with a wider audience. Their recent exhibition at the Popular Art Museum in Lisbon aimed to celebrate the heritage of basket weaving, providing designers, architects, craftspeople, makers and the general public with knowledge to inspire new projects and more responsible production and consumption. The exhibition, entitled ‘Um Cento de Cestos’ (One Hundred Baskets), drew on Passa Ao Futuro’s deep investigation into the Portuguese basketry collections of both the National Ethnology Museum and Popular Art Museum, as well as their ongoing work mapping the craft and craftspeople of Portugal. They presented objects, drawings, photographs, videos, interconnected data on raw materials, techniques and history of use, and profiles on local basket weavers to facilitate new solutions and highlight the urgent need to pass on these skills to future generations.
'Tempo' table lamp designed by Christian Haas and handmade by Isabel Martins. From the Plant Based Design Residency organised by Passa Ao Futuro for ‘Um Cento de Cestos’ Photo credit: Christian Haas Studio
Passa Ao Futuro is also changing the perception of craft through projects that merge traditional crafts with modern design. Their participation in Made In, now in its second iteration, is just one of the ways they are doing this. The current Made In project, Made In Platform for Contemporary Crafts & Design, running from March 2023 to November 2025, involves 10 partners across 6 countries, representing different crafts. For the project, Passa Ao Futuro is organising five residencies centred around the art of basket weaving in Portugal, each focused on a different natural fibre and technique, pairing one traditional artisan workshop with one leading international designer. The first residency, starting this month, will focus on junco, or reed, traditionally used to craft baskets and handbags on a loom. Lisbon-based French designer Sam Baron will work with Toino Abel founder Nuno Henriques on a small collection of utilitarian pieces using Toino Abel’s basketry technique. The resulting products will be revealed at an exhibition in November 2024, along with the work from the other four residencies.
For collaborations of this kind, Passa Ao Futuro selects designers and craftspeople not only for their skill, but their enthusiasm for learning new things and being part of an ongoing dialogue: “They have to be open to spending time and sharing knowledge with someone they never met before and be interested in being taken out of their comfort zone and willing to experiment with new ways of applying their knowledge and techniques. It is also important that the designers are able and interested in continuing the collaboration after the residency is over. The initiatives we facilitate are never meant to be a one-time event but rather the beginning of a long-term relationship.”
Master weaver Helena Rosa with Fatima Durkee during a residency in Mértola. Photography by Jorge Branco
The non-profit is bringing greater possibilities and sustainable options to contemporary design, while preserving an important part of the history of their home country, and truly elevating the quality of life of artisans and craftspeople across Portugal. “I am most proud of the positive impact that some of our projects have had in some artisans’ lives. An example of that is the Alentejo Heritage Textiles Residency in Mértola. Because of the residency we did with them, they have started training more weavers. In 2018, when we first visited their workshop, there were only 2 weavers, the master Helena Rosa and her apprentice Fatima Mestre. The master was worried because there was no one to continue her craft. Now there are 6. The beautiful pieces that came out of the residency were exhibited in the Prato Textile Museum in Italy, and all the weavers travelled to see their amazing work in an international exhibition. Now, they have a long waiting list of orders.”
Craft is uniquely powerful in connecting us to ourselves and to each other, to our locale and to our personal and collective history. Passa Ao Futuro understands the importance of craft and heritage, as well as the power of collaboration to carry it into the future. Their mission — to preserve, promote, innovate, activate and celebrate the Portuguese artisan sector — has remained steadfast since their founding, and their strategy has evolved in response to their research: “From our research, the biggest surprise was to realise that the number of craftspeople decreased a lot over the past decade. With some crafts in danger of disappearing quickly, unless we find people to continue them, we are now more focused on the transmission of knowledge even though we keep documenting new craftspeople and keep growing our database.”
Fatima and Astrid collecting raw material for the ‘Um Cento de Cestos’ exhibition with basket weaver Porfirio Nogueira. Photography by Jenna Duffy
Passa Ao Futuro continues to strengthen the endurance of crafts through a multi-faceted approach including: research, to stimulate the craft network; social innovation, to find solutions for the problems facing artisans and craftspeople; knowledge sharing, to bring together designers, architects, and craftspeople to carry traditional techniques into the future; awareness building, through exhibitions, documentaries, lectures, round-table discussions and cross disciplinary design thinking and systems thinking workshops; education, to train the younger generation of artisans and craftspeople, and inform young designers of the benefits of incorporating crafts; and sustainability — environmental, economic and social — built into all aspects of the project with the drive to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals within the sector.
In essence, Passa Ao Futuro is about people: about our history, our connections to the world and to one another, about what we can learn from one another, and our diverse knowledge, skills, and resources that, when combined, can make anything possible. “The most satisfying part of the work is that I get to meet so many amazing people,” Astrid tells us.
De La Espada is proud to be a sponsor of Passa Ao Futuro, and to support the preservation of the cultural heritage of Portuguese artisans and craftspeople.