This seems like a good subject for the first post of 2009. My major aim for this year is to achieve a national organisation to campaign for traditional crafts.
Why is a new organisation needed?
The traditional crafts are currently in a state of crisis. Many skills which have been part of our culture for centuries are now practiced by only a few elderly craftsmen with no new apprentices, some could be gone within ten years. The knowledge and skills of these craftsmen is itself a part of our cultural heritage, what the Japanese call “an intangible cultural asset”
At present the traditional crafts fall outside the remit of government funding agencies and have no cohesive voice. When I talk with friends about this subject they simply can't believe that there is no government support for traditional work crafts.
These quotes from my correspondence over the years may give an indication of the position, first Janet Barnes, then Director of the Crafts Council.
"My emphasis is on promoting British Craftspeople internationally. Looking forward is another thing in other words innovative practice-and not looking back and not being historical."
In an email to me in 2000 Janet said
"it has always been my understanding that the Crafts Council supports crafts that are skill based and have an innovative approach to design or use of material. I think the best approach for the Traditional crafts is to pursue the heritage angle for public funding purposes and this really means the lottery."
Here an extract of a remarkably frank letter from Kim Evans exec director Arts, Arts Council England 2001
"You are correct in your analysis of support for innovative craft practice; this is where nationally funded organisations have focused their attention over the past twenty five years or so. Indeed this has been the case with the visual arts as a whole where the innovative has been prioritised over the traditional, one reason being to make the most of limited funds" "It is unlikely that the Arts Council would see itself taking a more inclusive role in this area."
in 2004 the publication "Crafts in the English Countryside" contained the key recommendation;
"the establishment of a traditional crafts council to complement the
fine arts and contemporary crafts remit of the crafts council, and to
serve as an umbrella for all crafts operating in the heritage sector.
Like the crafts council it would promote and nurture public interest in
traditional crafts, support their products and services by extensive
exhibition and educational programmes and work to secure business
support and training."
A group of us are now working towards this goal.
The new organisation will
• Identify crafts that are in danger and where viable ensure their survival.
• Support, advise and work with the individual craft organizations and act as a focus to share good practice and information.
• Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional crafts as part of our heritage and culture.
• Ensure as far as possible that crafts are passed on from one generation to the next and also that a full video record of the skills is archived.
• Support initiatives to increase the quality and quantity of crafts teaching and promote the wider benefits of practicing craft activities.
Tanya Harrod author of "Crafts in the 20th Century" said of the situation
"It does seem terrible that there is no organisation to protect such skills. We must do something."
Watch this space.......