Nothing ages you quite as much as having one of your earlier publications reprinted in the ‘archive’ section of a journal because of its seminal contribution to debate in its field. It means you have a ‘greatest hit’. “Tonight, Matthew, I am Procol Harum…”
The latest issue of Crafts Magazine has a reprint of my 1997 article “A New Vision in the Making”, retitled “What Has Craft Given Us?” In the magazine’s editorial, Grant Gibson writes: “It seems some things never change. In this month’s Archive slot, we re-publish a piece written in 1997 by Mike Press, then Professor of Design Research at Sheffield Hallam University, that investigated the crisis in crafts education and put forward a raft of ideas for the future. More than 13 years later, that crisis appears anything but resolved”.
So, let us cast our minds back to the year Tony Blair came to power, the Spice Girls were riding high in the charts, we were all about to go down with mad cow diesease and Princess Diana’s death appeared to herald the dawn of a British republic. Craft was under threat. The Crafts Council had commissioned three research projects to develop a rationale for the development and continuation of craft education. My recollection of the meetings held at the Crafts Council at the time to discuss our research centres on the real sense of urgency facing both craft education and the Crafts Council itself. Thirteen years later, both still exist. Just.
My article came out of a project that I was conducting with Alison Stott, a brilliant research assistant who I was fortunate to work with. Her detailed and innovative work that tracked the career patterns of craft graduates provided wholly new data that provided a highly relevant view of the relevance of an education in craft. But what the research revealed very strongly was that the actual working experience of craft graduates was wholly at odds with the limited and frankly out-dated view that many of their educators tended to have of it.
The more our research developed, the more angry – to be honest – we felt about this dominant view. It was equaled by our anger at the narrow, economistic view that many policy makers at the time had about the value and function of education. So, A New Vision in the Making set out a new agenda for craft education: socially-engaged, sustainable, and able to direct craft knowledge towards the new challenges and opportunities of our age. Unfortunately the article is not available on-line, although if you contact me directly then I can give you access to a version of it. However, the latest issue of Crafts is more than worth the modest £6.20 asked for it.
Grant Gibson says that the crisis in craft education described in the article “appears anything but resolved”. On one level, yes: craft educators have, thirteen years on, still not made their collective case or really engaged politically with the issue of craft’s relevance to the wider society – and that remains an issue of huge concern. But on the positive side there are no so many forward looking and innovative craft education programmes, informed by current thinking and the latest research.
One big difference between 1997 and now is that back then there was so little doctoral and post-doctoral research in craft. Since that time a whole new generation of research focused craft practitioners have emerged and made a massively positive impact on craft. I’ll name no names – you know who you are! At the conclusion of the article I wrote “We need – and together we can create – a new vision in the making”. Actually we have. The only thing we need to achieve is the confidence to assert this more strongly.