The Crafts Council of England

Posted by: Rohini Wahi

The Crafts Council is an independent body funded by the Arts Council of England. Established in 1971 as the national agency for crafts, it was granted a Royal Charter in 1982 (this is a Royal seal of approval and grants the institution special privileges for its excellent contribution to the country). The Council is like a pioneer for crafts; promoting the teaching and studying of contemporary crafts within Britain’s schools, nurturing and supporting makers and craft professionals throughout their careers, changing stereotypes and spreading the word to collectors, museums, businesses and the general public.

The most wonderful thing about the Crafts Council is its schemes which provide economic support to crafters, by creating opportunities for exhibiting and selling their work and also by helping a number of new makers each year to set up in business through the ‘Crafts Council Setting Up Scheme’. What an amazing opportunity if you are lucky enough to be supported!

Some past recipients of Crafts Council Awards/Schemes include the likes of Tom Dixon, Alison Britton, Thomas Heatherwick and, more recently, Helen Murray, Donna Wilson, Tanya Gomez and Joseph Harrington.

Amongst other things, the Crafts Council publishes ‘Crafts’, its own beautifully presented magazine, six times a year which covers all craft forms, from studio work to public commissions, from modern experimental work to traditional and historic design.

The Council also organises the inspirational ‘Origin Craft Fair‘ held every year in the beautiful courtyard of Somerset House in London, showcasing some of the best of British and international contemporary craft.

‘Collect’ is a slightly more exclusive affair, an exhibition usually held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, but this year will be held at its new venue the Saatchi Galleries. The exhibition brings together work from craft galleries across the world, which is an excellent education in world crafts! You can see a list of featured galleries here.

Their website itself holds a huge wealth of information to aid crafters, highlighting Marketing Lectures, Professional Development talks and workshops on absolutely every aspect of making. Here you can also find interviews and advice from notable figures in the industry, have access to unlimited research resources and generally everything a crafter needs to succeed!

To find out a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes at the noble Crafts Council, I caught up with their Press Officer, the lovely Jill Read…

What does your role involve at the Crafts Council?

I am the Press Officer at the Crafts Council. I work within the communications team trying to get as much press coverage as possible for Crafts Council initiatives. The initiatives are quite varied including a programme of touring exhibitions, maker development schemes, craft curator schemes, and two major selling events each year: Origin and Collect.

When did you join?

I joined just over two years ago. Before that I was in the communications department at the architectural practice Foster+ Partners. It was quite a change going from a global organisation with over 1000 employees to the Crafts Council where there are about 50 of us. I think I prefer working within a smaller organisation – you know more about what everyone else is working on rather than being a small cog in a big wheel.

What is your office like?

We are in a converted chapel in north London which sounds quite idyllic but we are on a main road near Kings Cross so it’s rather hectic. We have just had our offices refurbished so we have moved up to a new open plan space at the top of the building with a series of big arched windows. It’s lovely, bright and quite calming and once we have some beautiful objects from our Collection on display it will be even better.

How many crafty items do you have on your desk right now?

None at the moment. We have just moved up to our new office so right now I only have a vase with some daffodils and lots of flowers on it. I wouldn’t mind treating myself to an Andrew Wicks mug for my tea though!

What kind of people do you interact with on a daily basis?

My colleagues, journalists, and lots of other press officers.

Do you do any making yourself?

Not really, although I did a few terms of pottery last year and really loved it - especially the wheel. I have also thought about embroidery - I quite like the face that you could do interesting illustrative pieces with embroidery

What do you think makes British Crafts stand out?

The creative industries now form a massive part of the UK economy and I think this demands that people within these industries are experimental and innovative. All the industries influence and inspire each other which I think drives all sectors to push boundaries including contemporary craft. All the definitions within the arts are more fluid now which leads to lots of exciting projects and opportunities. There are many makers now working with new technologies, with other medium and with other sectors which means craft is evolving all the time. I think it is this ability to experiment and challenge that makes British craft stand out.

What project do you feel has been your highlight in your career?

They have all been very different, but I always enjoy working on Origin. I have a lot of contact directly with individual makers trying to work out new stories so I get to learn more about them and their work. The fair includes all disciplines so there really is something for everyone press-wise and it is really gratifying to see individuals get much-deserved press coverage.

What is your favourite time in the Crafts Calender?

I think around September and October as there are lots of design, art and craft events going on including Origin in October.

What are you working on now?

Now I am working on our programme of touring exhibitions. Three of them are quite small-scale but they are really interesting, and it is essential that we get contemporary craft out to new venues and new audiences.

What is the one most covetable item you have seen in your time at the Crafts Council?

There have been so many things over the two years it’s hard to pick just one. The one that sticks in my mind though is a piece that was at our Collect in 2007. It was a ceramic piece by Japanese maker Fuku Fukumoto. I looked like a lovely big macaroon! Unfortunately the price was a bit out of my league but maybe one day...

Finally, what advice would you give any new crafters in this economy?

Funnily enough this is just something that we are tackling for our new website. We wanted to put together some tips on how to survive as a maker in the current financial climate. We spoke to three very established makers who had been in business long enough to get though tough financial times before. The main thing that all of them said was that makers generally are quite frugal and able to think creatively about their businesses and how they can be flexible in order to change with the times. Most of them advised the following…

* Diversifying ranges of work if you are struggling with certain price points.

* Think about where you can share costs with other makers

* Make sure you have a good up to date website as that can be a fantastic cheap tool for you.

* Cover your back and draw up watertight contracts with galleries if you have sale and return agreements.

And despite the doom and gloom in the news the majority of veteran makers felt that times like these can be quite liberating and creative for makers so if you have the passion and the graft - you will get through it!

All of their other advice can be found in the Explore Craft section of the Crafts Council website very shortly, so watch this Space!

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Rohini Wahi
London, England, UK

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