Risk Makers…the beginnings of something new.

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In September 2017 we brought together an amazing group of contemporary craft makers from our community on madebyhandonline to explore different approaches to sharing contemporary craft and skills with the public. We had a day of exploration and nourishment in order to discuss ideas for a new model of workshop and to analyse current challenges for makers.

Over the years we’ve often been asked to run workshops for the public and we wanted to explore this idea, but as we’ve always been concerned about the bigger picture for the craft industry and the makers we represent, we were also very keen to find new ways to create opportunities for our makers that would further their own creative practices. We’ve been struck by how many makers are struggling with working on their own and we see the negative impact this can have on confidence and creativity. The creative community on social media is so strong and incredibly supportive, but there’s nothing quite like meeting up with your tribe to boost one another and spark new ideas.

This research day came about after talking with different makers about the challenges they sometimes face with their work, a desire to create exciting opportunities for customers to see more behind the scenes, and a meeting with Nicola Thomas from The University of Exeter. Nicola’s a Cultural Geographer and she’s been working with makers and craft organisations for a number of years. She’s interested in makers’ livelihoods and how creative policy works in practice. Together, we planned our research day to explore ways to combine exciting new experiences for the public with stimulating professional development for our makers. The day was supported by Exeter University and held at Kaleider – an inspirational organisation and studio in Exeter which brings people together to design, promote and produce exciting creative live experiences.

It was an amazing day. We were nervous at first, even though we’ve known and worked with these makers for many years! It was a rare opportunity to have such a high calibre group of talented makers in one room and the potential felt so very great. We would have loved to have had all of our makers together, but of course this wasn’t possible. We invited a few from across the country who, between them, have a wealth of experience exhibiting, working with the public and teaching, are strong advocates for our madebyhandonline community, and who are all working primarily in isolation.

In the room we had… textile artists Dionne Swift, Sarah J Perry and Marna Lunt, ceramicists Virginia Graham and Tone von Krogh, paper artists Jennifer Collier and Suzanne Breakwell, jeweller Helen Noakes, mixed media artist Claire Read of Little Burrow Designs and woodturner Adam Cornish.

We also invited Richard Foot and Arron Fowler – craft film makers extraordinaire from R&A Collaborations. Although we didn’t know exactly where we were headed, we wanted them to start documenting the project. We also felt that their experiences from working with different makers and attending many craft shows would be valuable to our conversations.

Fascinating discussions in the morning quickly put workshop designs for the public on hold as we began to discuss ways of creating space to play, challenge and experiment and we looked at how we could facilitate makers to support one another with their work. We focused on the idea of developing collaborations in order for them to teach one another, share skills and create exciting new pieces of work, both collaboratively and on their own. This clearly had to come first and could then lead to us creating new work and opportunities with and for the public.

We explored the many positive impacts of makers collaborating with one another (emotional, social and professional). We’d already asked our makers to bring some of their tools and materials along for the day and as soon as we moved to these the energy and excitement in the room was extraordinary. It was hard to get them to break for lunch!

Questioning the effects of combining apparently jarring materials, experimenting with mark making on different fabrics and the sharing of experiences within the craft industry made it very clear which direction we were headed!

Our day was extraordinarily productive and also a lot of fun. It was such a privilege to be with everyone and we hope this was the first day of many. Together, we’ve now designed a pilot project and we’re hoping to start it this year. This isn’t just about creating support in a comfortable way. We want to nudge our makers to take risks with their work. Our day revealed that this is something that they don’t feel they’re able to do, due to working in isolation or a lack of confidence, the need to create ‘safer’ commercial products or having a work schedule that’s full, but not always in a satisfying way. This risk is now shared and it’s creating excitement rather than fear.

Our makers have already begun to discuss ways they can work together and we’re working with Nicola to look at ways we could share this project with everyone and invite our audiences online and at shows to get involved. We have lots of ideas, and this project creates potential for developing a new kind of workshop for the public or maybe collaborative courses within universities.

What happens when an embroiderer and a ceramicist are given the freedom to respond to one another’s work? What happens when a paper artist, jeweller and woodturner collaborate on the same piece? How does collaborative craft impact on an individual maker’s work and wellbeing?

We’d love to know if this is something you’d be interested in following or getting involved with, and we’d very much like to open this up to more makers as the project develops. Watch this space.

#RiskMakers #madebyhandonline

All image credits madebyhandonline & R&A Collaborations.