Vote for design

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The forthcoming General Election demands us to be critical of all parties and interrogate their manifestos for the issues and policies that we believe to be most vital.

There are three issues that I expect parties to address – creative education (in its broadest sense), the embedding of design methods in both policy making and the development of public services and the nurturing of the creative industries. I have a professional interest in all three of these.

Creative education is not only fundamental to civilised values, but empowers citizens to contribute creatively to their communities and there is evidence that it enhances wellbeing. Indeed that was why Aneurin Bevan argued equally for the NHS and an arts policy in his ground breaking book In Place of Fear. Placing design within government and the public sector is demonstrably a good and progressive idea. You can pledge all the money you like to the NHS, but unless you address the issue of service design, then such pledges become meaningless. And creative industries exploit the talents of the UK’s filmmakers, craftmakers, designers, artists, writers and others to create wealth and employment.

If these were the only issues that matter (and clearly they are not) then only Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are in the running.

The Labour manifesto refers to design nine times in the context of the redesign of public services and the introduction of co-design principles. To be honest here I was very surprised at this emphasis. Labour also assert “We will guarantee a universal entitlement to a creative education”. The Greens have a similar policy and further claim “We will set creative government free”. Their manifesto has considerable reference to design, including the design of safer cities and communities. So, some fine words and general principles, from both parties, but not a huge amount of detail.

But it is the Liberal Democrats who win the design prize – 19 references to design, including three explicit references to “design against crime” (thanks Nick, all our research on this issue clearly made an impact). They also win the prize for creativity for their section “Pride in Creativity” which has clear policies for education and more detail on support for the creative industries.

Rodney Fitch once said that no other British Prime Minister had ever banged the drum of design quite as hard as Margaret Thatcher. And with the possible exception of Sir Robert Peel, he was probably right. So how do the Tories stack up in 2015?

Design is actually mentioned, between “theatre” and “film”. So, a very 1980s notion of what design is – which is curious given that the Cabinet Office actually has recently done some very fine work at embedding design in government. There is reference to support for creative industries, but mainly centred on tax breaks for the film industry and anti-piracy measures. The emphasis in education is on STEM rather than any reference to creative education. So the message is very much: we like the money the creative industries earn for us, we want people to have access to culture and arts, but how people are empowered to create that culture is not something we think is important enough to mention.

But when we move on to the SNP, a rather curious and frankly disturbing black hole opens up. Just a simple word search results in: creativity: not found; design: not found; arts: not found; culture: mentioned twice in terms of business (culture of innovation) & twice in terms of agriculture and aquaculture; creative mentioned twice, both in the context of the BBC. There are a couple of very passing references to creative industries (less than two short paragraphs saying little), and one whole page about fishing. In Scotland the fishing industry employs 4,000 people and the creative industries employ 85,000. No mention of creative education at all.

I am told that this is because all of these issues are devolved. Excuse me? Creativity and design are devolved? How does that work? Education is very definitely devolved but there is considerable reference to it in the SNP manifesto. There are five references to the devolved policy of “free” university education in Scotland. Five. Just in case you miss four of the references. Curiously there is no mention of the 1,000 further education jobs that have been cut and the 12% reduction in FE budgets resulting in a 48% reduction of part-time places, many of which are in creative disciplines.

There is an interesting and telling use of language and reference to ideas in the SNP manifesto that is very conventional in its political rhetoric and simply does not refer at all to those ideas and methods that are transforming the public sector across Europe, which some other manifestos on the “progressive” side do.

However, the SNPs wins the prize for repetition. In addition to the five references to “free” university education, the term “more progressive” was used eight times. Neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Labour Party mention “progressive” at all. The Greens refer to “progressive” seven times, but in terms of taxation and energy tariffs rather than the assertion of a political mantra.

But don’t take my word for it, read these manifestos with an open mind and make your own decision. Whatever we think of political parties and their manifestos, they are the best guide we have to assess how seriously parties take the issues that are important to us.

I’m voting for the party that helps us to design a better future.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. UKIP.

Creative: not found; creativity: not found. So no surprises there. The references to design are twofold. ”Design and print by…” a reference to the printers of the manifesto. And “The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was designed from the beginning to steal our fish”.

So long, Nigel, and thanks for all the fish.

Time for some street life

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The iconic fashion designer/activist Katharine Hamnett gave an inspiring and entertaining talk at the University of Dundee today, laying down the gauntlett for Scotland to value its textiles industry and use it to build a distinctive sustainable fashion industry. Her 300 strong audience included many of tomorrow’s fashion designers, and it is hoped that they will take up her challenge. But to do this they need to be encouraged and actively supported.

In answer to a question about how Dundee can use the V&A’s presence to build a vibrant sustainable fashion industry and market, she called on the City Council to give the City’s designers access to empty shops – she was calling for a design-led pop-up retail renaissance in the city. Who could disagree with this? We have some great designers and would-be designers in the city – why not give them a chance to give the city a bit of street life?

Cities – all cities – are in the fashion business. And if Dundee does not appreciate this and address its specific challenges, then the V&A is unlikely to succeed as the magnet for tourism and other growth that the City’s economic future depends on.

The highly influential American economist Richard Florida makes the compelling but controversial case that cities need to attract specific types of people to succeed and develop in the future. These he terms “the creative class” – “people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content”. They are attracted to cities that have talent, technological infrastructure and are tolerant. All good news to Dundee then.

But this mobile and highly independent creative class expect something else too. They are attracted to experiential activities, described as Street Level Culture: a “teeming blend of cafes, sidewalk musicians, and small galleries and bistros, where it is hard to draw the line between participant and observer, or between creativity and its creators.”

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We are attracted to places like Brixton Food Village, or Bergen’s fish market, or the Union Square farmers’ market in New York, or the Edinburgh Festival precisely because of the spectacle, surprise and shifting character of the street. Dundee needs to encourage and enable vibrancy on its streets. A tired and low key farmers’ market merely underlines the challenge that faces the city.

We have empty properties and some great streets. We have a hugely talented aspirational creative community who would be willing to set up pop-up fashion shops, street food fairs, street performance and much else besides.

The City Council should work to strip back regulation, work with other bodies in the City Centre to identify and make available properties and locations, and invite the people of Dundee to literally reclaim their streets for vibrant enterprises and cultural activities. Because civic regeneration is not about iconic architecture and ambitious town planning. It is about giving the people who live in a city the opportunity to bring their street to life. With their life – their ambitions, their talent, their distinctive character; to design their future city. Design is not an activity done to people, it is done by them to give form to their values and dreams.

Dundee is a city of design. UNESCO says so.

Time to prove it.

Je Suis Charlie

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Four cartoonists are gunned down. Cartoonists. People who make funny drawings. Very dangerous people, cartoonists – if you an enemy of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – the values upon which our open society are built.

That most wonderful of cartoonists Gerald Scarfe has said this: “I don’t think cartoons in any way alter anything that happens in the world.” With the greatest of respect I have to disagree with him. As a teenager in the early 1970s trying to make sense of a world defined by Vietnam and pub bombings, I found his cartoons in the paper that fell onto our doormat every Sunday hugely provoking and engaging.

And while the pomposity and brutality of Thatcherism destroyed jobs, communities and people in the 1980s, it was Steve Bell’s Maggie’s Farm and If cartoon strips that gave the left confidence that while it could no longer win elections, it still had the best jokes.

The great thing about political cartoons is that they can present visually views and ideas that – if they were to be committed to the printed word – could easily result in litigation. Political artists exercising their comic liberty (which is what cartoonists are) have a skill possessed by few others – to look through the masks worn by politicians and others who exercise power and draw what they see. This form of artistic practice is not only in itself a good thing – but essential to an open society and to our democratic process. Cartoonists are artists who look hard at those who wield (and often abuse) power – providing through great visual economy an eloquent and powerful argument as to why they are wrong – and how they are vulnerable.

This is what the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo did supremely well. And that is why today’s events are such a dreadful blow to those values we hold dear. But through solidarity, love and comic liberty, those values will endure. We must hold on to our faith. And our sense of humour.

Learning from Vanilla Ink

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So Vanilla Ink – the unique Dundee based jewellery start-up incubator and general creative powerhouse – is to shut up shop in the city; for a while at least. Kate Pickering has driven forward Vanilla Ink from an initial hazy notion of what she would have liked to have seen supporting her when she graduated as a jeweller a decade ago, through to being the creative exemplar cited in just about every talk and article about Dundee’s creative economy. Well, in mine anyway.

For Dundee this is an important moment – perhaps more important than we recognise, given the significance of design to the regional economy and to the future that we are seeking to create for ourselves. Personally it’s significant, in that I have worked with Kate in a very modest way over the last few years to support her in building her vision. Some reflection is therefore in order about what we can learn from the Vanilla Ink achievement, where it leaves us, and – most importantly – how we build on the incredible legacy that Kate has provided us with.

What, then, has Vanilla Ink taught us? It would be easy to say that it all rests on the remarkable Ms Pickering of whom I am hugely proud. But as an educator I believe that individuals who do remarkable things stand as an inspiration to us all, and as such help us all to raise our game.

It’s about vision

Right from the start, Kate had a clear vision about what she wanted to create – a workshop space to enable jewellery graduates to develop their businesses, supported by mentors and a structured programme of support that would help them to develop the skills, confidence and knowledge to succeed in the future. That was it. Hers was a vision propelled by the passion she has for jewellery, for the city she had chosen to call her home – and most importantly for people.

It’s about people

It was a vision about how people could work together, support each other and make their own visions real. This has echoes of the idea of the “social expert” – in which craft expertise (or indeed any expertise) is indivisible from social interaction, from mentoring and co-operation. This is in contrast to the idea of the “antisocial expert” who is competitive and selfish with their knowledge. Kate exemplifies the qualities of the social expert, and has created a project centred around the sharing of skill, confidence and creative entrepreneurship. I believe that a sustainable and convivial future is dependent on people who are passionate and caring about other people.

Telling the story

Visions do not become concrete unless they are shared – and to do that their story has to be told. Right at the very start, Kate told that story a little uncertainly, a little falteringly. But the more she told it, the more her confidence came, and the more vivid became the telling. The vision was just the start – it was the story, the narrative, the placing of this idea within her own experience and expertise that made this project a viable proposition. In November 2011 she was one of those invited to speak at Dundee’s first ever Pecha Kucha. Watch her presentation below:

Build alliances

Innovative places require innovative communities, and building communities is the most vital activity, without which change simply does not happen. Again, this is part and parcel of being a social expert, and Gillian Easson’s success in building the Creative Dundee community is evidence of this. Kate was a pioneer (to my mind anyway) in using social media as a means of building a real community around Vanilla Ink, and connecting with others, such as Jane Gowans and Hayley Scanlan, to demonstrate a vibrant community of creative women entrepreneurs in Dundee. Her use of Kickstarter for the first Vanilla Ink cohort was a brilliant demonstration of what crowdfunding could do to generate support, community and finances to raise the ambitions and profile of the group. Indeed, Vanilla Ink was one of the first UK Kickstarter campaigns. Kickstarter was a means by which the City could get behind Vanilla Ink and show its collective support.

Creative leadership

“Mike, I’m going to initiate and organise the first ever Scottish jewellery week. What do you think?”  I thought she was possibly a bit unhinged, and if it went wrong, then it would go spectacularly wrong, but when you are a proven and respected creative leader then that’s not really on the agenda. Creative leadership means forever looking outward, not inward, looking for new opportunities, creating a focus for your ideas, and bringing people along to share in what you create. From initiating Vanilla Ink, then a creative festival to celebrate jewellery was the logical next step. Creative leadership is also about being unpopular when that is necessary, it’s about facing up to setbacks and having the confidence to move on. It is about being brave. These are qualities that she has developed, and that the emerging generation of new change makers can learn from.

Knowing when to quit

There’s a real art to quitting. And indeed a science. I teach my students “the meaning of life” at then end of one of my lectures (no honestly, I really do), and this is in part about knowing when to quit – or rather about knowing when to reinvent. As the inspirational Charles Handy says “The world keeps changing. It is one of the paradoxes of success that the things and the ways which got you where you are, are seldom those that keep you there.” I have no doubt that Vanilla Ink could have just carried on in the same way, but the world does keep changing, the challenges shift, and new opportunities arise. This is linked to creative leadership, having an outward focus that constantly scans for new ways of developing and implementing vision.

 

Some lessons for Dundee…. be cool

Finally, a few lessons for Dundee. The creative industries are great. They can be transformative to regional economies and to the profile of a post-industrial city such as Dundee. They bring the allure of awards and celebrations, which of course cities love. But they have two other qualities: they are VERY fragile, and VERY mobile.

We are at a significant moment in our city’s development, which is overlain by some equally significant shifts in employment nationally and internationally. Scotland has a much improved rate of new business start-ups, but we have yet to see the kind of support for new businesses and for the self-employed that the RSA, NESTA and other organisations have been saying we need to see, and which I have been writing about for some time. It is time that the city and the country took the needs of our fragile but vital creative industries more seriously. This is not about asking for hand-outs or subsidy – rather the infrastructure, business support and mentoring that our Millennial-driven start-ups need.

Kate exemplifies Richard Florida’s idea of the creative class – these are the creative knowledge workers in fields as diverse as engineering, the theatre, life sciences, education and business start-ups that all economies demand to retain their dynamism. As Richard Florida says “In the future, they will determine how the workplace is organized, what companies will prosper or go bankrupt, and even which cities will thrive or wither.” One key characteristic of the creative class is that it is highly mobile, lacking the traditional bonds and loyalties that formerly bound people to place.

When he was Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg wrote this in the Financial Times: “I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more effectively and consistently than capital attracts talent. The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities. A city that wants to attract creators must offer a fertile breeding ground for new ideas and innovations…. Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts.”

In Dundee we have made considerable progress, but we still have a fair way to go. I have yet to be convinced that the City truly understands the cultural dimensions of economic development, or indeed the needs of our fragile start-ups.

However, my belief is that by learning the lessons from initiatives such as Vanilla Ink, and strengthening the creative communities of Dundee, then we will continue to make progress. Vanilla Ink 2 Dundee will open up, and will take Kate’s vision into new territories. For this to happen we need new energies and ideas to join with hers. She showed us what was possible. Now let us build on that further and really put creativity to work in Dundee!

 

Craft on the new frontier

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How do we characterise craftmakers in the 21st century? Are the varied activities of making taking on a profound shift in response to globalisation, technological change and new cultures of making and consumption? Is making being transformed by an emergent “new industrial revolution”? These were some of the questions addressed by the Crafts Council’s Make:Shift event, held on 20/21 November in London and billed to “explore how advances in materials, processes and technologies are driving innovation in craft practice.”

As chair of three of the sessions, I found the conference inspiring, challenging and dazzling in the sheer diversity of practices and perspectives that were represented. Running alongside the event was the national Make:Shift:Do programme of open workshops, exhibitions and talks that dovetailed the London conference and places the discussions in a national context of making. In Dundee, Louise Valentine and Jo Bletcher put together an ambitious programme of practical workshops, a salon discussion event, and an exciting new exhibition of work from designers, makers and up-and-coming undergraduate students. For us, embedding Make:Shift within our teaching programme and culture was an opportunity we could not miss!

In the conference summing up I presented some initial ideas and reflections, which this post expands on. They are not offered as a definitive view, but as perhaps a starting point, and I would value comments on them. This is not intended as a summary of the conference, as that can be better gained from the conference website with the videos of the various sessions.

Empathy for process and people

Right at the start, Martina Margetts raised the critical question of how we define makers and making. The presentations and discussions of the event provided evidence that definitions are fluid and increasingly diverse. Early on in the conference, one participant described craft as “empathy for materials and process”. This certainly seemed to be reflected in a range of the practices presented and discussed. through an ‘empathetic engagement’ makers had discovered new values and explored the creative affordances of seaweed, loofas, industrial estates and advanced robotics. But empathy for the physical, technical aspect of craft is clearly an incomplete perspective. Empathy for people is critical. As one contributor said “technology is just a tool, that’s all – above all, it’s about exploring context”. The human context is the driving force, to produce work that has cultural relevance and resonance. This human context does not just concern the use and consumption of crafted objects and systems, but far more significantly its production – and perhaps this is where empathy is most necessary.

Collaborating through a trustful language of touch

From the opening keynote to the closing speech and through just about every presentation in between, Make:Shift highlighted a new spirit of collaborative working, and a passion for defining new languages to underpin and enable these collaborations. Roger Kneebone introduced the idea of reciprocal illumination as a way of understanding how we advance craft knowledge. The old teacher > student model of learning has been supplanted by the maker <> maker model of advancing mutually supportive practices. This has echoes of Richard Sennett’s notion of the social expert, and suggests a welcome advance from the conventional notions of how craft should be taught. It made me question how we could better and more explicitly embed reciprocal illumination in our craft courses. Collaboration requires communication, and Roger Kneebone also raised questions about how we develop languages of touch, and of how we value the eloquent voice of silence.

On the final morning of the conference, I asked participants on twitter what their key takeaway had been so far. Tony Quinn replied: “The link between language, skill, collaboration and trust to develop and sustain one’s practice and one’s community of practice”.

Twenty years ago, Crafts Council and other events presented craft as a very much more individualised and solitary practice. I will speculate on some of the factors that have shifted us more towards collaboration a little later.

The maker as DJ

Colleagues at the event from Benchmark tweeted that today’s maker has become a DJ. As co-inventor of the Rip + Mix ‘designer as DJ’ method of innovation in service design, this struck a chord. In many cases we could see where makers were mixing age-old craft knowledge with new knowledge and finding new contexts and applications for their outcomes. We could see evidence of this with Michael Eden’s ‘digital ceramics’, with the electro embroidery of Sarah Taylor and Sara Robertson and in the new hybrid lab described by Raymond Oliver. DJs are above all expert curators and – in a whole variety of ways – create wholly new experiences and sounds out of what they find. Lauren Bowker mixes insights and innovations from science to crafted wearable objects, Roger Kneebone finds harmonising elements from highly disparate craft sources, and Fi Scott discovers hidden values and processes in gaskets and sailmaking.

If we seriously view the modern maker as curator of technologies, materials, tools and practices, as much as an originator, then this places further demands on them as social experts and collaborators.

Farmers and cowboys/girls

Roger Kneebone raised the issue early on about the difference between scored and improvised performance. For a musician this places very different demands on them – as it does the craft maker. This caused me to think about different modes of craft practice, and to connect with an idea expressed recently by Brian Eno. In his view there are two types of creative practitioner: farmers and cowboys. The former has a patient and intimate relationship with the tools and materials of their practice, and has a wealth of learned knowledge and experience to draw upon. The latter works largely in new territories with far less knowledge and experience, and improvises with what is available to them: “I often think that art is divided into the musical Oklahoma: the farmer and the cowboy. So the farmer is the guy who finds a piece of territory, stakes it up, digs it and cultivates it – grows the land. The cowboy is the one who goes out and finds new territories.”

In my view, craft – or indeed any creative practice – requires both cowboys and farmers. A constant search for new territories could pull destructively at the bonds of community and sense of common purpose that reciprocal illumination demands, while the focused cultivation of one creative territory would seem to negate any sense of progress. What becomes interesting is listening to the experience of those makers who have no problem in shifting from one role to another, and back again. Michael Eden, for example, appears very much at ease at being both farmer and cowboy.

Makers as facilitators

The new collaborative culture of craft reflects significant new developments in creative practice over the past decade. The emergence of design jams, maker spaces, the open source movement, DIY culture, a new connectedness enabled by social media has led to new ways of learning and sharing, new forms of collaborative creativity, new forms of practice that not just blur, but render obsolete the old professional/amateur distinctions. Makers are as much concerned with facilitating and supporting the creativity of others, as they are with developing their own. Indeed many define their creative output in terms of facilitation. Increasingly, makers are crafting new opportunities for the creative empowerment and expression of others. The maker spaces and other projects hosting Make:Shift:Do events are evidence of this – as indeed is the Global Sustainability Jam that opened worldwide on the final day of Make:Shift.

A new industrial revolution?

At least a couple of the speakers took issue with some of the more fashionable ideas being expressed currently. Raymond Oliver claimed “I do not believe in wearable technology”. Others rejected 3D printing as overhyped. And while Chris Anderson’s book Makers was cited by two speakers, there was some questioning whether his notion of a new industrial revolution was valid. Revolutions are not made by technology or tools – revolutions are made by people and their aspirations for change and new values.

Ours is not a time of revolution – industrial or otherwise. But is is perhaps a time of an accelerating shift in craft’s relevance and role, and an associated shift in the role of the maker. We are on a new frontier, and therefore we need cowgirls and boys, who can explore and define new creative territories. The qualities they need above all else are empathy, a confidence in collaboration, a curatorial spirit and a willingness to constantly shift from the new frontier to the farm and back again. And perhaps above all, the frontier spirit demands a fair bit of courage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dundee’s Daltrey data dilemma

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YouGov has a massive database of consumer and voter and lifestyle preferences based on 200,000 people which they have made available online for ‘profile’ access. You can’t drill into the data, for that you have to pay upward of £4,000 – but it’s a taste of the data that they have.

Visitors to the YouGov Profiles website are invited to type in “any brand, person or thing” – and will be presented with a typical persona of a consumer, fan or user. Using it we discover that the owner of an Apple iPhone is more likely to be a professional woman with politics in the centre. An Android user is more likely to be male, lower middle class and left wing in their politics.

So, what sort of typical person has an interest in Dundee? A male around 30, working class, with voting preferences bordering on the Marxist. Lorne sausage and Madeira cake are amongst their favourite foods, they are keen on tennis and possibly keep a budgie. They drive a Kia, shop at Tesco and Burton is their tailor of choice. They read The Scotsman and Reveal Magazine, and favourite entertainment includes Gary: Tank Commander and Roger Daltrey. 

But people who like the University of Dundee are more likely to be professional women aged over 40, conservative in politics with a taste for brown rice and horse racing, driving a Peugeot and reading The Herald.

Admirers of Alex Salmond shop at Lidl and drive a Skoda. If they invite you to dinner it’s likely there’ll be a Forfar Bridie involved. They like watching Braveheart, listen to The Stranglers and are regular readers of New Scientist. Yes, I too began to doubt the veracity of this when it got onto reading preferences.

But they’re bang on when it comes to the typical Arsenal fan: a posh woman in her early 20s who shops at Waitrose and John Lewis and reads The Guardian and The Economist. She has a taste for empanadas and probably keeps a goldfish.

I myself am broadly in the demographic of the wearer of Paul Smith (although my salary only really stretches to the socks, and I got given those as a present), a professional male of a certain age with a taste for Jack White, Morrissey, and Apple computers. However the real oddity is this: their politics are clearly left of centre, but they read The Telegraph. Go figure that one out.

YouGov profiles are probably a useful starting point for developing personas and I can see a role for it in teaching. They help to demonstrate differences in values as expressed by brands. As a starting point for other research I feel there us much to commend it. But if I was V&A Dundee planning their launch campaign, I probably wouldn’t rush to sign up Roger Daltrey.

 

 

Why learning through making matters

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The poppy installation at the Tower of London seems to have moved all who have seen it, capturing the immensity of the human cost of needless war. Certainly it triggered debate, which is always a positive thing.

The irony is that in the week this installation by ceramicist Paul Cummins captured the public imagination, so a campaign was launched to save yet another ceramic course threatened with closure – this time in Falmouth. Throughout the UK ceramics courses have been steadily axed over recent years. Apparently there is no longer any value in learning how to craft beauty and meaning, insight and inspiration from clay. However, the hundreds of thousands of people who have visited the Tower of London in recent weeks may have a slightly different idea.

Paul Cummins learned his craft at the University of Derby, where ceramics is still taught. If we value learning through making, if we value the unique objects and art works that only a mastery of ceramics gives us, if we value the imagination and power evident in the Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London, and the sense of wonder experienced by all those who have seen this remarkable artwork, then surely we must defend the teaching of ceramic art and design.

Ceramics runs deep with us. It runs in our veins. Some of the earliest human made objects are ceramic, such as the 30,000 year old Venus figurine discovered in Moravia. The invention of the potter’s wheel in what is now Iraq around 6,000 years ago revolutionised the production of vessels and led directly to the establishment of cities. Then there is Josiah Wedgwood: a potter who invented the factory system, industrial design, the principles of modern marketing and laid the ground for the industrial revolution. Oh yes, he also helped abolish slavery and provided the money for Charles Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle. Artistic expression, the birth of cities, innovation, revolutionary change, social responsibility and evolutionary theory. Pottery. What’s not to like?

The craft of ceramics may play a vital role in our history, and can be used to remind us powerfully of recent historical events. But it is not consigned to history. Ceramic design is very much a practice of today – and it is vital for our future. At Falmouth, where the ceramics course is under threat, ceramic design researchers have been leading the internationally recognised Autonomatic Research Group, fusing craft and digital practices in highly relevant and innovative projects in partnership with programmers, cultural geographers, bio-scientists, journalists, social scientists, technology developers, museum curators, and artists. And of course they are doing this in Cornwall, a region where there is huge value in exploring new applications for making and craft.

If you’re still not convinced that an education based on making stuff has any value then perhaps you could imagine living without your phone. As Apple’s head of design, Sir Jonathan Ive pioneered the smartphone and the tablet, and provided the design expertise to make Apple the most highly valued company on Earth. This week he said “So many of the designers that we interview don’t know how to make stuff, because workshops in design schools are expensive and computers are cheaper. That’s just tragic, that you can spend four years of your life studying the design of three dimensional objects and not make one.”

Yes, it is tragic that those who are responsible for design education appear to have no idea of the educational, cultural and economic value of a learning that is based on making. But in most cases those responsible do not actually work in design education. It is part of their “wider brief” as senior managers in higher education who are given an art school alongside a clutch of other related (and usually less related) disciplines. In my experience, these “here today, gone tomorrow” managers have much in common with cabinet ministers who have responsibility for education: they have no passion, no interest and above all, no knowledge of their brief. But – and this is the real tragedy – they are making decisions that future generations will have to live with.

This week the UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan spoke out unambiguously about the value of the arts and humanities: “If you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do…then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful – we were told ­– for all kinds of jobs. Of course now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects.” In choosing the arts, she asserted, pupils are making choices that “will hold them back for the rest of their lives”. There is a poverty of knowledge and imagination behind these comments that is hugely dispiriting.

It is dispiriting because there is naturally the assumption that learning based on the arts – and making in particular – is somehow a bit dumb, and thus is something pursued by thick people. I don’t agree with this.

Craft is the one true alchemy. It is through craft  – through learning based on making – that quality is found in the crudest of materials. From mud is created ceramic, from sand is created glassware, from ores comes metalwork and jewellery and from a sheep’s back comes woven textiles. It is through craft that pigments from the earth were discovered to have qualities of colour which could be applied as paint – to paint the sky. Craft is the process which takes the earth and paints the sky with it.

Learning through making fuses science and art, technology and culture. It defines our humanity and our values, it provides future visions and possibilities. It captures imagination.

It must not be lost.

Sign this petition.