Craft Councils Doing Something Right…. Almost
I am happy to see that Artisan Canada may have had a positive influence on our provincial and territorial craft councils. They have joined forces with the Canadian Crafts Federation, to create Citizens of Craft, led by Craft Ontario. The Citizens of Craft website includes a directory of artisans with images of their work, from across Canada (i.e. members from the individual craft councils).
It’s about time.
Having acknowledged their good work in finally setting up at least one directory that includes artisans with pictures of their work (there are also, stores, organizations, events and other things included), I am sorry to say that for the dollars spent on this effort, there is very little else, of value for artisans.
On the Citizens of Craft website they explain their “manifesto” in terms of ten, rather flippant phrases. To provide context, the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of a Manifesto is “a written statement of the beliefs, aims, and policies of an organization, especially a political party”
Here is the Citizens of Craft Manifesto:
- YOU ARE NOT A LEMMING.
- WE VALUE THE UNIQUE AND ENDURING.
- OBJECTS SHOULD INHABIT, NOT INTRUDE.
- YOU ARE NOT AUTOMATED, MANUFACTURED, OR CLONED.
- And all the while they are promoting and event about “low cost digital fabrication equipment”.
- YOU BELIEVE IN 10-DIGIT TECHNOLOGY.
- ONE SIZE SHOULD NOT FIT ALL.
- NOTHING IS NEWER THAN TRADITION.
- COOKIE CUTTER DOESN’T CUT IT.
- VASES ARE PEOPLE TOO.
- WHILE WE ALL MARCH TO DIFFERENT DRUMS, WE MOVE TOGETHER.
The images that accompany the statements above are downright condescending, verging on insulting, such as little ceramic “lemmings”, that I believe a child could make, for example. The messages are trite and demeaning to artisans, many of who have spent years honing their craft.
Not a particularly useful or articulate manifesto. There is additional information on the website about what they mean by these statements and how craft (in their view) is now something akin to a political movement. In point of fact, I think that the government is specifically prohibited from funding local political movements so I don’t believe their concept is even in keeping with acceptable guidelines for the practices of government funded organizations.
Another question for Minister Michael Coteau and Premier Kathleen Wynne to answer.
Rematerialize Craft - what the heck??
On their website they say that they want to "Rematerialize Craft" in an effort "to clarify and deepen the public’s understanding of craft". I think that if you asked 100 people what rematerializing craft means, none of them would have any idea. Rematerializing craft is a concept that will likely serve to confuse people about craft rather than clarifying their understanding of it. How does this nonsense help artisans in any practical way? Artisans don't need people to believe in craft as a cause - they need people to understand the value in handmade things. They need the opportunity for people to be able to purchase their products without adding a 50% commission to the cost (making their products less affordable). They need people to understand the skill required, the work involved and the enduring quality of handmade products.
And for the record - most people really don't need silly little ceramic lemmings or jewellery that is un-wearable, or tables that barely stand up. Most people need quality, handmade things they can actually use.
I’m not sure why they keep trying to reinvent the wheel (unless it is simply so they can reinvent themselves and their raison d'être, for continued funding). Otherwise, why not just promote talented artisans, there are certainly enough of them in Canada and they deserve the promotion that the funds are intended to provide.
I can, however, see how this manifesto and the ridiculous notion of a political movement, will stimulate some fun conversation around office water coolers or provide fodder for academic papers, or feed creative inspiration for a marketing campaign to promote their own craft organizations. But I don’t see any practical benefit it will provide for artisans.
Spend the Money on That!
Supporting small businesses as part of an economic strategy is a worthwhile political perspective – so fine – go with that and actually support them. Provide artisans with free venues, free advertising and free marketing, free memberships etc. That’s what they need. Spend the money on that.
I believe that the collective craft councils have spent a significant amount of money coming up with innovative new ways to promote their own organizations all the while trying to convince the public that they are promoting artisans. They are unabashedly promoting themselves. They do very little for artisans.
I would love to know how much money was diverted from promoting artisans to pay for the re-branding of The Ontario Craft Council to Craft Ontario, for example. I can only image the consultation process, the consulting contracts that were given out, the reprinting of materials, etc.
Competitions or Circuses With Lots Of Hoops
In a future post I plan to list the competitions they run. It’s not enough that the Craft Councils spend money meant to support artisans, on everything but…… for the few dollars they do put aside for craftspeople, they expect them to submit to competitions. Craftspeople are further demeaned and made to jump through hoops for the paltry amount of money they give out. If you were to divide the total number of hours that artisans collectively invest in applying for grants, and participating in these inane competitions, by the total amount of money they actually hand out, I think it would demonstrate a pathetic return on time invested. Once again, hurting, not helping artisans overall, yet consistently drumming up more publicity for the craft councils.
Would that Artisan Canada had a fraction of the funds our provincial and territorial craft councils have, what we wouldn’t do to promote and assist artisans in Canada. The thought of hundreds of thousands of dollars to help artisans makes me think of so many ideas. Here’s a wish list, should that day ever come:
- Commissions of 10% to 20% instead for 50%
- No more provincial craft councils with competing interests
- One Canadian craft council with free membership for artisans
- Online sales via a Canadian craft website
- Canadian craft shops in all the major cities, and tourist destinations across Canada
- Quarterly craft shows with no fee for artisans to participate
- Regarding admission and qualifications – subject experts (artisans) to provide expertise as required.
- Seminars and events that provide opportunities for artisans to speak about their craft – all members are given the opportunity, one-by-one, not just selected individuals.
- Annual or quarterly publication showcasing Canadian artisans, all of them, not just a select few.
- Training opportunities where skilled artisans can help teach the next generation of craftspeople.
These would be a start, but I can think of much more that could be done. I would love to see a Canadian Craft organization that provides studios for everything from metal working, to weaving to glass to woodworking and more. Where younger craftspeople could come to learn from more experienced artisans. Where the public could come to watch, learn and buy (or custom order) handmade products. Where retailers could come to order products for their stores. A hive of skills exchange and economic growth for small artisan businesses!
….. call it my manifesto 🙂
Lemmings and cookie cutters aside - these craftspeople at work, and many more like them, are what people need to see, learn about and understand if you want them to support craft and buy handmade Canadian products. Lets hope Minister Michael Coteau and Premier Kathleen Wynne think so too!