Craft says something…an interview with The GNCCF

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On Thursday evening the doors of the Old Granada Studios in Manchester will open for the preview of 2016’s The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. This exciting show is organised by Great Northern Events NW Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2007 by Ann-Marie Franey and Angela Mann. Their aim is to champion high quality and cutting edge contemporary craft in the North and to and engage and develop new audiences of buyers and collectors.

The GNCCF is now firmly established in many makers’ calendars and lots of people apply to take part each year. More than 160 makers from all round the UK have been selected to exhibit in this year’s show, from contemporary ceramicists, jewellers, furniture makers and printmakers, to artists working with glass, paper and textiles. Lots of our madebyhandonline makers are exhibiting and we’re really looking forward to seeing everyone. While the makers are putting the finishing touches to their stand design (and making sure they have enough stock of course), our director Katie catches up with Ann-Marie to find out a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes…

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 ‘Craft says something’… We love the new styling. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

We love it too. For various reasons we decided to work with a new Manchester based agency called Squad this year. Much as we loved the kaleidoscope of old we felt it had run its course. We wanted something fresh and of course contemporary to reflect the quality and content of the show. We wanted to get across the idea that craft has a back story, has a depth and has soul – it says something to the maker and the buyer. We gave Squad a very thorough brief (rather embarrassingly it ran to 24 pages and included all kinds of stats and research gleamed from the Arts Council and Crafts Council!). The team at Squad came up with this strapline and the speech mark campaign. We loved it instantly and felt it very simply captured what we wanted to impart.

So what’s new for the 2016 event?

Well, following last year we’re expanding Craftworks to get more of our visitors involved and inspired by craft making. To this end we’ve got a raft of workshops this year which will be run by some of our makers, so visitors can make contemporary folded paper lamp shades with Emma Crabtree, carve a silver ring with Rebecca Winder, try their hand at various print making techniques and make a willow sculpture. Ceramicist Zoe Lloyd returns this year as our artist in residence – she’ll be doing lots of ceramic plates and sculptures with our visitors in free drop in workshops running throughout the show to create an installation for 2017. And last year’s artist in residence Harriet Lawton will be showcasing the results of her residency. So the GNCCF offers a more dynamic and participatory experience, but shopping for unique and beautiful craft, or course, remains the mainstay of the show. And we see the return of our regular features: Ornament – the selling exhibition of high end collectible work from critically acclaimed makers; Great Northern Graduates and the Hothouse Alumni showcase.

You receive a huge number of applications for the show. How are selections made?

Indeed we do. Makers apply online and we appoint an independent panel of craft experts such as curators, retailers, academics and other makers to select for the GNCCF and to ensure we have a good cross section of disciplines represented. The panel changes every year. We have five people on the panel and they all cast their vote based on six images submitted by the applicant. They have to make quick decisions to get through all the applications and can be quite ruthless. That’s why it’s really really important to get good images of your work.

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The standard is so high at the GNCCF so we always find it tricky selecting the winner of our Best New Business Award. The Great Northern team also present an award for Best in Show. That must be even trickier! How do you start? What’s your criteria?

Well we usually have a short list going into the show as we’ve seen lots of images of work but sometimes this goes out of the window! We run round the show during set up and make little notes and then confer. Whilst Angela and I can have very different tastes and opinions we’re usually very united when it comes to choosing Best in Show. We’re simply looking for craft that, well, says something. And of course is exquisitely made.

The show used to be in different venues in Spinningfields. How are you finding it at Old Granada Studios?

We love OGS. Me more so as it is my old stomping ground when I used to work as a TV Producer at Granada TV. It’s very strange being back in studios where I’ve spend many an hour making TV shows. The studios offer such cavernous space which allows the show to spread out. And being inside we don’t have to worry about the weather. There were times in the marquee when the gales were so strong we thought the tent was going to blow away!

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Personally, my taste is really varied but I find I’m particularly drawn to jewellery and ceramics. Do you have a particular type of craft that you’re drawn to?

Ceramics…but I’ve already run out of display space. I desperately need to commission someone to make me some shelves to give me more space. I also love textiles and am rather partial to a cushion. I’m under strict orders from him indoors NOT to buy any more cushions – especially as our new puppy Peggy is also rather partial to them and likes chewing them. I came home last week to find one I bought from Liberty 30 yrs ago in shreds. So don’t tell him but I’ll have to replace it!

There’s a danger that contemporary craft is seen as a luxury product that’s not accessible to all. We know that’s not that case, so how do you ensure you’re appealing to different audiences and encouraging people to engage in making?

It’s tricky but, like you, we’re on a mission to convert people to craft. I want to preach outside Pandora shops and shout “BAA, BAA” at them all queuing at Christmas and tell them to seek out a contemporary independent jeweller! I’m forever stopping stylish women in the street and handing them a leaflet and I get very frustrated when some just shake their heads and say they aren’t interested. I don’t understand it. The problem is getting these people through the door as they are always blown away by the work when they see it. So we’re hoping our new campaign will go some way to persuade people who think craft is not for them to have a proper look.

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Huge thanks to Ann-Marie for answering our questions. We can’t wait to see this year’s show. All the visitor information you need can be found here. As always at the GNCCF, we’re excited to see the new graduates and new makers who’ve just launched their careers. We’ll be presenting the Best New Business Award and we’re really looking forward to catching up with lots of our makers who are exhibiting, as well as doing a bit of shopping ourselves!

We’ll be sharing pictures of the event on social media. You can find us: @madebyhanduk on Twitter and on Instagram and here on Facebook.

The GNCCF is open on Thursday 6th October: 6pm-9.30pm (preview evening) and then Friday 7th: 10am-6pm, Saturday 8th: 10am-6pm and Sunday 9th: 10am-5pm.

(Pictured: ceramics by Sue Pryke, jewellery by Katy Luxton, fashion accessories by Tammy Child and furniture by Red Thumb Print)