This website is about the ‘Connecting Craft and Communities’ networking programme. This programme bought together a network of academics, researcher-practitioners, professional and amateur makers, activists, creative organisations, intermediaries and policy makers. The network met through a series of three participatory workshops, held between April and September 2011. These events were funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) ‘Connected Communities’ Network Grant.
The purpose of the network was to collectively examine the changing cultures, politics, practices and skills of craft in the 21st century. Discussions focussed on developing an understanding of the role of craft in developing self-reliance, economic regeneration, and health and well-being within communities.
Why craft and why now?
Craft practices have great potential to connect people together, whether in person or virtually. Through learning to make, we can share in communities of knowledge, skills and interest. We can communicate through shared memories and values, such as a mutual commitment to activism or sustainable living, a need to establish alternative ways of working, or simply the desire to decorate, repair or improve the quality of our lives.
The professional craft sector is an important part of the UK’s creative economy. According to the Crafts Council, there are at least 88,250 creative practitioners working in the craft sector across the UK. These craft practices include glass-blowing, jewellery making, embroidery, knitting, weaving, stonemasonry, woodworking, basket making, book-binding and pottery. Many craft practitioners will spend years perfecting their methods. These business, many of them sole-traders or small enterprises, contribute around £3 billion GVA to the economy each year.
Craft is enjoying a resurgence in public popularity. Whether it is the growing trend for crafts at home amongst people of all ages, or people turning their hand to new hobbies with the help of resources like the internet, craft offers a chance to be creative, to make something worthwhile, and to be inclusive for everyone. Craft can also be a tool for political protest. Craft activist and workshop participant Betsy Greer takes knitting as her example:
Knitting means different things to different people. For some, it is simply a relaxing and productive hobby. For others, it may be any or all of the following: a way of expressing love and gratitude to a friend, a way of supporting individuals in need, a way of lessening the environmental impact of mass-produced goods, a way of protesting sweatshop labour, a way to make a livelihood, or a way of supplying needed household items. Whatever our reason for knitting, through the craft itself, we constantly have the opportunity to make profound statements about the way we live.
– Betsy Greer, Knitting For Good 2008: 101
What are the challenges?
Craft faces many challenges, whether it is making sure craftspeople are able to make a living, ensure practitioners get proper recognition for their skills, or making sure that the infrastructure and training for crafters is properly maintained. On top of these challenges, it is necessary to think about how best craft can serve communities to produce the maximum benefit, especially with the rise of new opportunities for meeting, sharing and connecting through media like the Internet. The workshops raised a number of questions, such as:
- Have home crafts, DIY and amateur practice provided a fresh approach to techniques and materials?
- Does crafting undermine, reinforce or re-imagine cultural identities, for example those shaped by age, class, gender and race.
- Can craft represents a new community activism through volunteering, working with charities, or through ‘craftivist’ politics?
- Does the current interest in crafting can support and maintain a sustainable local and global micro-economy of small business, online sales, crafts fairs and festivals, training and educational workshops, and other innovative events
- What are the challenges for heritage groups, like museums, when collecting and exhibiting craft?
- How do new technologies, such as product customisation, enable new ways of making across digital communities?
- Do crafts offer viable, sustainable lifestyles for the future?
- Can craft effectively promote ethical ways of living by offering alternatives to consumer capitalism through opportunities to repurpose, remake, make-do and mend?
The workshops saw presentations and contributions from a tremendous variety of practitioners including academics, crafts practitioners, activists, makers and thinkers, who were trying to tackle these difficult questions. On this website you will find information about the workshops and participants, audio files for the speakers, links to other online resources
Dr. Nicola Thomas is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography (specialising in cultural and historical geography) at the University of Exeter. An emerging area of research for Nicola involves the study of the creative economy. In a recent 3 year AHRC funded project Nicola explored the relationships between place and identity as they are negotiated by the creative makers, arts institutions and governance organisations in the South West. This project placed value on understanding the cultural practices and experiences of creative making within a regional context and involved interviews and ethnographies with over 100 practitioners, creative intermediaries, policy makers and organisations.
Dr. Katie Bunnell (Co-Investigator) is Associate Professor of Design and convenor of the Autonomatic research group at University College Falmouth. Autonomatic are a group of researchers that explores the creative application of digital technologies within craft based practices. Their projects are concerned with developing new working practices, processes, and innovative products that highlight the relevance of making in 21st century culture. Bunnell studied at the University of the West of England and Royal College of Art before completing a PhD, on the integration of new technologies into ceramic designer-maker practice, at The Robert Gordon University.
Dr. Fiona Hackney (Co-Investigator) is a Design and Craft Historian with a particular interest in amateur practice, gender and the imagined and actual communities that surround such everyday practices such DIY, dressmaking or reading magazines. Fiona is currently involved in a number of AHRC projects exploring the connections between people, place, history, storytelling and creative practice to promote regeneration, health and well being, and resilience, particularly in rural communities. She sits on the Executive Committee of the Design History Society and the steering group for the Heritage Lottery Funded Memory Bay oral history project (a partnership between Tate St Ives, the St Ives Archive Trust and Leach Pottery, UCF and others) which explores the arts and crafts community in St Ives, Cornwall.
Dr. Simon Moreton is an academic geographer and comic book artist. He is an honorary member of staff at the University of Bristol. He is interested in questions of creativity and community, the relation between arts and representations of mental health and how institutional knowledges/politics about creativity are formed.
Jeanie Sinclair is a PhD candidate at University College Falmouth. Her PhD is entitled Performing Memory: art community, archive and place. Working with material from the St. Ives Archive and the Memory Bay Oral History Archive, her research is an attempt to rethink the idea of a creative community from within.