Arabuli ART HOUSE – Korsha’s calling card
Nino Arabuli has been engaged in tourism for 12 years now. Although Khevsurian by origin, it was not until her university years that she visited the region for the first time. Today, she works on the use and development of Khevsureti’s tourism potential. This activity engages a social mission as well: to employ local women, stir up youth interest in traditional crafts and commercialize local culture.
In addition to Nino’s personal experience, a catalyst for starting up this activity was her meeting with Shota Arabuli. Arabuli is a well-known man in the village of Korsha. Apart from being a remarkable character and the best host in the village, he is an extraordinary painter and master of wood engraving; with his hands he creates unique objects, embroidery and original paintings and, together with his children, works to revive Khevsurian culture.
“It was in the 1960s when my grandfather was resettled from Khevsureti and since then we have not had a house there. I was a university student when I first arrived in Khevsureti and I was stunned by its beauty,” said Nino Arabuli.
As she recalled, her meeting with Mr. Arabuli inspired her to do more for Khevsureti: “Our first project was the ‘Chrdili’ (or “shadow”) festival. Within the scope of this event we brought writers, poets, and painters to Khevsureti and hosted them for one week during which poetry, literature, paintings were created… Then came many other projects and ideas. To get funding, we established the nongovernmental organization ‘Khevsureti and Community’. Today, we have the Arabuli Art House, which generates a number of social benefits,” Nino went on.
Shota Arabuli’s premises in Korsha consists of a large yard and two wooden houses. One of these structures functions as a guesthouse, while the other is home to the “Art House”. .
“Our house was always full of guests. It is located in such a place that all travelers would enter it. Then, tourism started to develop gradually. To accommodate more guests, we extended the house and expanded the household production, and we also built a workshop nearby,” Mr. Arabuli recalled.
The two-story guesthouse receives 300-400 guests annually. Guests are treated with local produce and offered a genuine Khevsurian adventure. Traditional crafts are created in the Arabuli Arthouse and sold to tourists arriving in Korsha. Free masterclasses are also held for the local youth So that the new generation can master its skills in traditional handcrafts and enamelwork.
“On the one hand, our activities create an attractive and distinguished environment which, in turn increases tourism potential; on the other hand, we create jobs for the local population, provide them with a source of income, instill a love of traditional handcrafts in the local youth and teach them crafts in order to spare them from having to face the only choice of leaving their native region in future,” Nino Arabuli said.
Although the Arabulis’ guesthouse does not experience a shortage of tourists, it is difficult for the business to maintain financial profitability throughout the year. Europe Foundation awarded a grant to the Arabuli family precisely to improve its financial sustainability and expand the business. This amount will enable them to purchase enough materials to be prepared for high tourist season.
According to Nana Gamkrelidze, the Europe Foundation program manager, this financial assistance will help the Arabuli family improve their social enterprise in several ways: it will help them to attract partners, conduct promotional activities, expand the geography of their target market, and participate in international and national business exhibitions. “We do hope that within a year after the completion of the project, the social enterprise of the Arabuli family will be able to break-even, then become profitable, employ at least eight new artisans, ensure the uninterrupted supply of products to corporate clients and retail traders and use the proceeds towards achieving its social mission,” Nana said
In addition to the enterprise’s ambitious plans, the Kvevsureti and Community NGO has launched a new project this year. Nino Arabuli had long cherished the idea of starting a summer camp in Korsha. This year she succeeded in realizing this idea and opened the doors of the camp to guests in August.
The camp is situated on over 4,600 square meters of land nestled among mountains; it is adjusted to accommodate persons with disabilities and offers full tourist services: tents with all the necessary infrastructure, WC and shower, breakfast, lunch-boxes for travelers and special tours in Khevsureti.
“We selected a strategic location for the camp. The current appearance of this place is the result of long and hard work. This place was a total mess. During the Soviet period, it was a tunnel construction site, which was dug in the direction of Chechnya; there was also a building for workers to live in. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, nothing but ruins were left from this building. We cleaned the territory up, leveled uneven surfaces, and laid communications. We are now ready to provide full comfort to tourists travelling in Khevsureti. We plan to offer tours in Pirikita Khevsureti which is on the northern slope of the Caucasus, and Piraketa Khevsureti which is on the southern slope of the Caucasus. We will offer rest, lunchboxes, and delicious coffee to travelers and thus, the camp will also be a place for tourists to stop and rest,” said Nino Arabuli.
According to Nino, the revenues generated from the camp will be spent on furthering the organization’s social mission, in particular, on financing the Chrdili Festival. “We have already employed six people and, as the business expands, the employment potential will further increase,” Nino said.
The annual number of tourists to Khevsureti is unknown, however, as Nino said, some figures show a positive trend. While six years ago the number of people in the district stood at 400, now it is above 1000. The school in Barisakho had 38 pupils in 2013; today the number of the schoolchildren reaches up to 80.
“It is very important that local business enjoys certain benefits established by the state. I think, this will motivate more young people to stay in their native region and develop local production. Tourism has also been gradually developing in Khevsureti, opening up more opportunities. I only fear for the authenticity and uniqueness of Khevsureti not to be lost as a result of the rapid development of tourism; therefore, I think that we must proceed step-by-step and do our job strategically, for our own benefit,” said Nino Arabuli.
Author: Ketevan Magalashvili
Photos by: Irakli Shalamberidze