This month you can read an article by Emma Daker in Craft and Design magazine about ‘Pathways to and through making’. We’ve posted an extended article here with a bit more detail.
Pathways to and through making
The recent report ‘Craft in an Age of Change’¹ demonstrates the significance of higher education to the contemporary craft sector,
“More than half of makers (61%) have a relevant degree and the number for whom it is a first career seems to be growing, suggesting that craft practice is becoming ‘professionalised’, and that an academic training in the subject…has become the primary pathway into the profession.” P.35, February 2012
This major UK survey which consulted over 2000 makers and craft professionals, was published in February 2012, the same month that Craftspace’s current touring exhibition Made in the Middle launched at mac birmingham. The report supports the main theme of the regional open exhibition; exploring pathways to making in light of the economic downturn and subsequent closures to applied art courses.
“More specialist craft courses have closed…than have opened.” P. 9, February 2012
As a triennial exhibition, Made in the Middle enables Craftspace to explore and comment on current issues within the sector. Consequently Craftspace and the exhibition partners mac birmingham and The National Centre for Craft and Design; aimed to utilise this exhibition to explore various routes to professional practice through the careers of those featured in the exhibition.
For the purpose of the exhibition we explored three pathways to making, the traditional path, apprenticeships and as a second career. We also examined opportunities available, once more established, through the following themes Diversification of Making, Diversification from Practice and New Pathways.
The Traditional Path
The most common route to a making career is from statutory education to an applied art course. As stated, there are concerns within the craft sector that this presents diminishing opportunities for people to break into making.
Yet applied arts courses are a proven, valuable basis for a making career, enabling practitioners to expand into a variety of roles and sectors, and to acquire important and inspirational theory as well as making skills. Once established there is the potential to progress into other areas of work.
Exhibitor, Gill Wilson studied Constructed Textiles at Winchester School of Art. Following a scholarship to study papermaking in Japan Gill set up her studio making wall pieces for the interior market. Gill has also taught in further and higher education. After working at East Midlands Arts as Crafts Officer, Gill was the Gallery Manager at the Harley Gallery, and is now managing an independent gallery in Derbyshire, in addition to her practice.
Apprenticeships to Making
Undeniably, apprenticeships exist within the craft sector, but they are, for the most part placements for graduates of applied art courses, rather than school-leavers. However there is growing interest in exploring apprenticeships as an alternative to university.
Whatever their route to practice, it’s essential that, once established, there are opportunities for makers to develop their thinking and skills further. Organisations within the sector are consciously creating continued professional development programmes, including incubation schemes for emerging makers or mentoring for more established practitioners, all of which seem to be having an impact.
Anna Lorenz completed a telecom engineering apprenticeship in Germany, followed by five years in the field before seeking a change of career. She launched into this with an apprenticeship to a Master Goldsmith before moving to the UK to undertake a jewellery and silversmithing degree at the School of Jewellery in Birmingham. Recently Anna sought mentoring to further her studio practice and participated in the FF2 Mentorship programme, run by Designer Maker West Midlands. This enabled Anna to rethink her approach to making, opening her practice to opportunities outside her discipline.
Making as a Second Career
A significant proportion of professional makers have come to craft practice as a second career, having worked in other industries for a substantial amount of time. A number of Made in the Middle exhibitors demonstrate alternative routes, but have often pursued higher education as a means to rationalise their ideas and skills.
Jan Garside began a fine art and sociology degree in America, but a work placement in the UK led her to become a nurse and midwife. Continuing to feel the need to create Jan attended evening classes which led to an access to higher education course. This was pivotal in her decision to undertake a textile degree. These courses provided the advanced techniques and professional approach Jan desired, and introduced her to weaving which forms the basis of her current studio practice.
It’s widely accepted that makers need to supplement their income rather than survive on their practice alone. How can makers remain viable whilst keeping their motivation and creativity vibrant? Portfolio career is an expression increasingly used which reflects the majority of making careers. Teaching, community work or commissions are all recognisable sources of income. Except today craft is a growing sector, an expanded field of practice, broader than traditional avenues. Through the course of the exhibition development we came across some interesting examples, perhaps accidental pathways.
Diversification of Practice
When operating as a sole trader it is difficult to make time to draw out new inspiration with the conflicting demands of managing a small business.
Nonetheless it is important for makers to push their practice. There is a need to identify time and seize opportunities which can enable the development of new ideas and exploration of different processes and techniques.
Esther Lord is a silversmith with a reputation for refined silver vessel forms with intricate surface pattern. Esther’s work was spotted by representatives of Nokia at Collect. They were looking to work with makers to challenge their own designer’s ways of thinking and to develop material led design. Esther was one of three makers they worked with. Following the recent Nokia project, Esther has been developing a new range of work which explores the potential of surface design using gilding metal, a departure from her usual material of silver.
Diversification from Making
Within portfolio careers, various experiences and projects inform makers’ practices or can inspire them to venture into new areas. Although still making in their chosen discipline, some exhibitors are also exploring new avenues to utilise their design and making skills alongside their own practice. Others are seeking ways to develop their own careers whilst supporting others.
As an experienced maker and workshop provider, Jennifer Collier was increasingly asked by customers and clients for somewhere they could see a coherent collection of her work. Consequently she set up Unit Twelve as a base for her operations and a space to develop different workshop ideas. Jennifer wanted to be able to offer a more rounded workshop experience; providing a greater insight into her working practice, as participants can see her studio, inspiration and work in progress. Unit Twelve also hosts a programme of themed craft exhibitions alongside the workshops. Consequently, Jennifer supports other makers to get their work seen and sold. Unit Twelve also hosts five artists’ studios.
As with all other industries, craft is developing and moving with the times. Since the last Made in the Middle exhibition there has been a marked increase by makers nationally in the use of digital technologies.
Contemporary craft also develops and changes through makers’ quests to perfect their skills and develop their knowledge. Makers are continually developing new pathways for themselves, pushing the boundaries of their making though experimenting with new processes.
Vanessa Cutler is concerned with pushing the parameters of water-jet cutting technology. In recent years she has been investigating the potential for its creative application with glass. This has led to the development of new work that utilises this innovative technology in an imaginative and unique way. Through questioning the boundaries of the process, Vanessa has developed knowledge of water-jet technology which is sought in a consultancy capacity by engineers.
There are a number of pathways, alongside higher education for entry into the contemporary craft sector, although the majority of exhibitors that took those routes ultimately wanted to validate their experience with an accredited applied art course.
Considering the careers of the exhibitors also demonstrated the value of programmes run by development organisations to continued professional development and the importance for makers to be well networked and the value of the ability to recognise an interesting opportunity.
Contemporary craft makers have a lot to offer both their sector and beyond, but they need to be more aware of their transferrable skills, or perhaps need help identifying them. There needs to be a conscious realisation that makers approach things differently which can lead to interesting pathways as consultants and a result of their material and technical knowledge.