Not Exactly Plain Sailing…

Painting of a Joseph Sempill ( Irish, active 1867-1874), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In May 2021, the North West Craft Network took some time to explore the opportunities and the difficulties that the pandemic has presented to us, and examined what we thought our priorities should be for the next year or so. We’re just wrapping up our work on our priorities, but in a nutshell they will be: Wellbeing and the value of craft; diversity and inclusion and maker support. More on that soon, but in the meantime, here’s a summary of what we felt was pushing us forward, what has potential, and what is holding us back…

Picture of sailing boat on the sea by Joseph Sempill ( Irish, active 1867-1874), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Sempill ( Irish, active 1867-1874), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pushing us forward

While the pandemic had brought great turbulence, problems, and hardship, it has also brought an opportunity to think about doing things differently and a push to accelerate change. Makers and organisations have tried new platforms and been forced to find funding – all of which are experiences that can be built upon. Forced to look for stay at home activities that are nourishing, social and accessible, people have rediscovered the value of everyday making and creativity in unprecedented levels.

Within the North West Craft Network, we have a wide range of fantastic organisations working together. Access to a group of people outside of our small teams has expanded the possibility to access other ways of doing and thinking about things by providing a diversity of perspectives. Within that network, not only do we have a wealth of collective skills, knowledge, and expertise, but members are passionate about craft and making and about how their organisations support it along with goodwill and willingness to share.

Areas of potential

The increased public engagement with craft and perceived value of creativity by both public and professional together has been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic. Together with a weariness in throwaway consumerism in the young, this is something that the craft sector can respond to and build upon. The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to make a new normal.

Holding us back

Despite the things pushing us forward and the potential for growth, there are hard realities such as reduced funding and increased competition for the funding that there is. Everyone is short of time and resources and has to balance their organisation’s priorities with that of the craft sector nationally and regionally. We are not diverse enough either in our network or in the wider sector, and there is sometimes a lack of clarity over what it is we are trying to achieve, leading to a feeling of there being too much talking and not enough doing.
Within the wider context, we are facing a recession and ongoing economic hardship that will impact on us all. And while there are many creative graduates, they are not exploring craft as a career. We need to attract more and work out how to support them. Alongside this there is an emerging tension between hobbyist and professional approaches to craft, between the democracy of making on the one hand and the perceived elitism and exclusivity of professional craft on the other.

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