Casa 927 is the new address for the hopes, dreams and work of more than 15 Latin American artisans. The beautiful, white, 1940 neoclassical house in San José’s historic Barrio Amón neighborhood offers a space where some of the best artisans in the country can permanently exhibit and sell their products under one roof, as part of Costa Rica’s first solidarity-based business model.
Although Casa 927 is first and foremost dedicated to the success of the artists, it is also an eclectic space combining an art gallery, a broad cultural calendar and one of the coziest coffee shops in the city. The project became a reality through the hard work and initiative of the artists and two passionate josefinas (San José natives), Yara Mourelo and Vivian Hütt.
In 2009, the two women were suffering from the effects of the economic crisis while also going through substantial changes in their personal lives. At a time when their savings were running short and nothing seemed to be working, they were given the opportunity to produce the 2010 edition of the Mercado de la Expresión, a series of art markets in San José. Throughout 2010, they worked closely with the country’s top artisans on the event.
By the end of the year, Mourelo and Hütt were once again worrying about their future. Then, a group of artisans approached them with a proposal.
“The artists told us what a struggle it was for them to live from one market or festival to the other. They wanted to be gathered under the same roof and most of all, to have a place to call their own,” Hütt said.
With that idea in mind, Mourelo and Hütt started their search for the perfect place to showcase the artisans’ work. They didn’t know they would end up creating one of San José’s most original venues.
“Barrio Amón was the perfect neighborhood for a place like this. In cities around the world, these old-style areas are used to revive art and culture. Barrio Amón will become to San José what SoHo is to New York or the Latin Quarter is to Paris,” Mourelo said.
When Mourelo and Hütt showed up at the Tax Administration Office to register their new business, they had a hard time describing the project they had in mind. After a lot of discussion, a new category was created, and Casa 927 became Costa Rica’s first official solidarity-based business model.
In the crafts section of the house, artisans sell their products without intermediaries. The artists all pay a monthly fee to exhibit their products, benefit from the services the house offers and use the house as a business platform.
Ofelia Reategui is one of the businesswomen and artists working within the Casa 927 project. The 61-year-old Peruvian has lived in Costa Rica for 15 years and is the owner of Manos Latinas, a small business that makes handmade purses and wallets out of recycled commercial canvas. Ofelia’s company employs two families in La Unión de Tres Ríos.
“I could employ two more families, but in order to do so, we need to increase our chances of business. This is what Casa 927 is doing for artisans like me,” Reategui said.
Mourelo described Reategui’s products as “a true representation of Casa 927’s philosophy.”
Casa 927 is also aiming to become Costa Rica’s first label for design crafts. Mourelo, Hütt and the artists are working closely with the National Training Institute (INA) to certify craftsmanship processes based on their technical validity, environmental commitment and quality.
“We believe that by strengthening our artists, we are promoting our manufacturing potential and supporting the fact that Costa Rica can create quality products,” Mourelo said. “We believe that the work made by Casa 927’s artists have the quality to compete against traditional souvenirs, which are often industrially manufactured in Asia.”
Casa 927 has given artisans the opportunity to unite and become stronger. It promotes a family-style bond between all participants, with an accent on trust and solidarity.
“Recently we had someone try to sell us the Internet domain www.casa927.com and have us pay up to $10,000 for something that costs only $12. This is exactly the type of society we are trying to fight against,” Mourelo said.
An example of this philosophy can be seen in one of the house’s rooms, where a group of three young architecture students and artisans work together to run their small businesses: Verito’s Design, Artiliches and Carambola. The space showcases highly original knitted goods and jewelry made from recycled materials and wax threads, and the artisans work together with a remarkable spirit of cooperation.
“The three of us are students, so we can’t be present in the store all the time from Monday to Saturday. We have found a way to alternate our study schedules and always have someone in the shop to sell our products,” said Verónica González, designer of the original duenduflas, funky house slippers that resemble elf shoes.
In fact, originality is a must in every product sold at Casa 927. Melissa Meseguer creates stunning papier-mâché lamps and decorative objects, each of which has its own story. One of her collections depicts a group of cats wearing scarves, with the idea that they are going on a trip to Poás Volcano; another collection shows a group of sad clowns who were fired from the circus.
Meseguer and her mother, Evelyn Soto, also a designer, both have their own spaces at Casa 927. Mother and daughter see the project as a unique accomplishment.
“Every piece I design is heartfelt, and I intend it for someone who will see that in my art. Having a permanent place to sell my products and be in contact with the public is a dream come true,” Meseguer said.
“This is finally a place were I can create and sell my jewelry while building the foundation of my business,” Soto added.
Casa 927 has been open for just over a month, but its success is snowballing. In this short period of time, it has acquired more than 1,000 Facebook followers. Every 28 days, the house organizes a series of discussions and conferences dubbed “Menstrual Cycles”; the next meeting will discuss the subject of numerology in ancient Latin American cultures. In addition, the house serves as an art gallery exhibiting paintings and sculptures.
To top it all off, no visit to Casa 927 is complete without a stop in its coffee shop, Café El Patio, where delicious homemade breads and pizzas emerge daily from the wood-fired oven. The café also serves a daily special to its midday customers. About 70 percent of the ingredients used in the café are organically grown, Hütt said.
Casa 927 is at Calle 3, Avenida 11 in Barrio Amón. For information, call 2221-2302, email [email protected] or visit Casa 927 on Twitter and Facebook, where the house’s cultural agenda is published.