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Morocco: Teaching the Teachers

Olaf Kuhlke in Morocco
March 8, 2018

Bringing art and cultural entrepreneurship to Morocco.

Olaf Kuhlke, associate dean for the UMD College of Liberal Arts, is helping communities around the globe develop cultural entrepreneurship projects. More accurately, he is training universities and communities about how they can help entrepreneurs.

In February 2017, he spent two weeks in Morocco, first at University Ibn Zohr in Agadir, Morocco. Olaf was teaching educators ways to create an arts and culture plan that would improve the economy of several Moroccan cities and towns.

Small Community, Large Interest

His second trip was to Assa, a city of 20,000 people, on the edge of the Sahara desert.  “The community was extremely interested in the concept of cultural entrepreneurship,” he says. Crowds came to meet him. Students from the Assa high school, crafts people, business leaders, and even the regional governor attended the events.

A group of leaders from University Ibn Zohr in Agadir, Morocco

A group of leaders from University Ibn Zohr in Agadir, Morocco

"Assa is a community of indigenous people in the desert but it has tremendous potential,” Olaf says. Their arts and manufacturing communities make high quality goods. Their products include carpets, jewelry, silver teapots and other serving pieces, pottery, baskets, fabrics, clothing, and items made out of leather and wood.

Natural resources are limited, and even food is sometimes scarce. It is so remote, many people use camels for transportation. That fact became real to Olaf during the trip between Agadir and Assa. As his group came upon a truck on the side of the road, tiny brown heads popped up over the cargo gate. The group stopped and Olaf had the opportunity to see baby camels being fed. “They were so small and gentle,” he says. “And they were thirsty!”

Baby camels near the Sahara desert

Baby camels near the Sahara desert

Olaf's up close encounter with the camels underscored the biggest obstacle Morocco has to overcome: there is a long transit from the source to world wide distribution.

Strong Connections

Olaf is part of a team that seeks to revitalize a 1960s relationship that the University of Minnesota had with the Kingdom of Morocco. One asset to the bond is that the former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco lives in Minneapolis.

UMD already sponsored a study abroad trip last summer to Morocco led by UMD faculty members Associate Professors Dana Lindaman and Ryan Goei. Another faculty member in the entrepreneurship program, Assistant Professor Aparna Katre, has also traveled to Morocco to further investigate opportunities for cultural entrepreneurship.

Currently University Ibn Zohr and the University of Minnesota are building a dual degree program in cultural entrepreneurship for students from both countries.

Craft items made in Assa

Craft items made in Assa

UMD also has a student exchange with the University of Rabat in Morocco.

Global Reach

Olaf finds similarities to Morocco in two additional communities. UMD is building a relationship with the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship that has worked with communties of people with Pueblo ancestry in New Mexico. “They have a similar situation,” Olaf says. “They have scarce resources and transportation concerns.”

Olaf’s contacts in the Canadian and U.S. Arctic also correspond with Assa's. He is working with artisans and digital technicians who are creative, have access to natural resources, but do not have proper transportation.

UMD is working towards becoming more internationally involved. “We have an initiative called Global 20/20,” Olaf says. “The work we are doing in Morocco will be a big step toward our goal.”

About UMD's Cultural Entrepreneurship Program