Campaign for Traditional Crafts

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…….

10 Responses to Campaign for Traditional Crafts

  1. Jude January 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    I totally agree with all you’ve said. Keep posting. I really don’t know how you’ll go about it apart from a total turnaround in people’s mind-set in the UK.

  2. Robin Wood January 12, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    Thanks Jude,It is only the contemporary craft/art world that has that mindset, the vast majority of people are fully suportive of traditional crafts as is the media. Once we are set up it ticks all the boxes for lottery funding. I believe we will quickly make a difference, and we need to do it quickly as old craftsfolk are dying and skills are being lost rapidly.

  3. sam_acw January 12, 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    This book was one of the Christmas bestsellers; Lost Crafts should have helped raise publc awareness somewhat. Good luck!

  4. Shawn January 13, 2009 at 3:38 am #

    Robin, I’d suggest you look to the Preservation Trades Network (PTN) which works towards a similar goal in the building trades. In particular, I’d recommend that you contact Bill Hole with whom I have studied historic preservation of Victorian era buildings. He is one of the organizations directors and endlessly passionate about teaching the next generation of craftsmen and passing on traditions and skills. PTN does have an international membership and Bill can probably give you a list of names to start contacting in your area. To start with visit their site and if you are interested I’d be happy to connect you with Bill.

  5. Robin Wood January 13, 2009 at 9:17 am #

    Shawn,Thanks for that, they look like a really interesting organisation from whom we can learn. I would be very interested to contact Bill if you could put us in touch.Robin

  6. welcometovoluntarysimplicity January 14, 2009 at 9:43 am #

    Sounds like a brilliant idea and much needed too. These skills are being lost faster than they are being learned and with the current situation of the world the traditional skills and knowledge are something we can’t afford to loose.Good luck with it all and keep us posted.

  7. doug fitch January 17, 2009 at 6:33 pm #

    Hi Robin, as you know, it’s something I’m really passionate about too, how frustrating that traditional crafts are perceived as being dispensible. I could rant a whole lot more about the subject. It’s brilliant that you are being so proctive, I’d be interested in being involved in some way if I could be at all helpful. Have you checked out the video archive assembled by NEVAC at the uni of West of England?, Doug

  8. Robin Wood January 17, 2009 at 7:02 pm #

    Hi Doug,I really think we are going to get somewhere this year. I talked yesterday with Jenna-Lee Philpott who is currently working on a Crafts policy document for Creative and Cultural Skills. She assured me that traditional crafts do fall within their remit although the draft document contained little mention of them. It is currently being updated and a number of us will be interested to see the results.

  9. rakeman January 28, 2009 at 9:06 pm #

    I find that the public are very supportive of traditional crafts. It’s not just the old school. Young people love to participate on my rake making demonstrations. I believe there is urgent need for a centre of excellence, totally dedicated to the practical teaching of tradtional and modern crafts. The building trades are well catered for at ‘entry level’ but intelligent and commited future craftsmen and women need more than the NVQ mentality to get qualifications and experience. I guess it would have to be privately financed or tag on to an existing craft based college. Food for thought? David Wheeler, Rake maker, Norfolk

  10. Robin Wood January 28, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Thanks for the comment David,If we could get the UK to sign up to the UNESCO convention then we would get a huge amount of funding to do these things. And there is little time to loose.