Craft Connected

I was recently invited to chair the 1st conference organised by craftscotland entitled Craft Connected. This was held at the Collins Gallery in Glasgow on Saturday, 27 August 2011 and attracted a committed and lively audience of around 70 people. The conference was convened to explore how craft is connected: connected internationally, connected culturally, connected with industry and new audience, with public services, community initiatives and the wider society. We were fortunate in having a number of excellent speakers who explored different aspects of these connections and helped to provoke a spirited and wide-ranging discussion on how we take these issues forward. We were allowed to use part of the afternoon to discuss our Change Makers initiative and to develop ideas and proposals for the makers manifesto, which is described further below in the previous blog entry.

The conference was opened up by Garth Johnson from California whose blog extreme craft attracts considerable interest. He reminded us that craft can be transformative and it can also be a weapon. He wanted everyone at the conference to be a craft activist. His highly engaging presentation emphasised the relationship between craftivism and the DIY culture on one hand, and studio crafts on the other. He also made a call for a new decorative arts scholarship built on the world of feminist literary research.

Tom Hopkins Gibson described his own practice and stressed the importance of being part of a community. Having made a midlife shift into the crafts, his beautiful wood and porcelain pieces are sold by Liberty and Calvin Klein in New York. Through the success of his practice he is investing back in his community, transforming a disused industrial building in the middle of a former mining town into a craft centre. Tom’s contribution emphasised the importance of courage which lies at the heart of craft practice.

Contributions by Rebecca Davies from craftscotland and Laura Hamilton the Collins Gallery explored both the new opportunities presented by craftscotland and the professional needs of makers in dealing with curators and galleries. Certain shortcomings regarding the latter suggest that many craft makers see their practice as one solely of producing objects rather than developing and delivering a service. The issue of service was picked up in the afternoon by Lauren Currie from Snook whose inspiring talk on service design and its relevance to craft practice provoked considerable interest from the audience. She explained how, as a service designer, she used physical modelling as a powerful tool with clients to bring conversations to life and inspiring them to think through making. She argued that the role of a designer is not being in a studio anymore, it’s about going out into the streets and into communities. She laid down a challenge to the audience of unlocking their hidden and secret service.

Josiah Lockhart heads up the Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh. Founded in 1860, this project demonstrates how craft can support and sustain communities, and the importance of physical objects in expressing value and the values of those who make them. This case study complemented that of Muriel Murray from Castletown Heritage Society based in Thurso which has established traditional skills workshops, working with local schools and local communities. These workshops have been successful because they are embedded in both the local environment and the local community and its history.

An extensive discussion at the end of the afternoon identified a number of themes and ideas that should be embedded within the Makers’ Manifesto. These included the issue of education, and to promote different types of education, using diverse funding, that reconnects craft with children’s and adult learning. There was also discussion on the relationship between the trades and craft, together with exploring how craft could address issues of sustainability and the low carbon economy. Many ideas were presented and discussed concerning how craft can transform its profile by attracting diverse audiences to events such as Craft Connected. Perhaps the time of the craft community speaking to itself is over, we need to actively and urgently engage with the rest of the world.

Craftscotland will be writing up some of the outcomes of the event, and making video of some presentations available online shortly.

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