Why are traditional crafts not supported in the UK?

In the UK traditional crafts fall outside the remit of all government support agencies. We do not fit in the innovative artistic remit of the Crafts Council and English Heritage’s remit is buildings and monuments. This leaves traditional basketmakers, sievemakers, Sheffield folding knife makers, country potters, weavers and anyone else making traditional functional craftwork without an agency to promote and support them. We tend to be proud and self sufficient so maybe have not made a fuss about why artists, theatre, opera, historic buildings and museum collections should get support and promotion but traditional craftspeople don’t.

This is a very unusual situation, in most other countries traditional crafts are recognised as being an important part of peoples identity and promoted and supported through the cultural ministry. Here are a few examples of how other countries do things.

These are all members of the European Folk Art and Craft Federation.

AUSTRIAKuratorium Österreichisches Heimatwerk
The Austrian Folk Art works as a general and regional organization that works with many of life’s cultural enrichment houses, homes and clothing, work and leisure, as well as celebration of the year and life’s small and large events. To our diverse tasks belong to the development, promotion of, guidance, selling and manufacture of products from folk arts and traditions as folk dresses, sculptural craftsmanship and handicrafts. Moreover, we work also with courses, publishing, exhibitions and cultural events. It is at all times desirable to us that the art and craft work will provide much pleasure and an emotional experience.www.heimatwerk.at

DENMARKNetop – Association for Adult Learning
(and Danish Craft Association)
NETOP is a merger of 200 local non-formal adult education societies and groups in Denmark. We are engaged in a wide variety of activities in education and crafts courses – weekend, day, and evening courses and classes. We cover a wide range of subjects, but two things are near and dear to us: traditional arts and crafts, and the society we all live in.
NETOP is founded in both training and artisan skills. Our work is carried out with respect for the long tradition of craftsmanship, and with the ambition of extending knowledge to future generations. Our ambition is to maintain the link between traditional artisanship and the relevance of creativity and craftsmanship in our modern society.www.netoplysning.dk

ESTONIAEstonian Folk Art and Craft Union
In January 1929, the Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union (EFACU) was founded, the aim of which was “… advancing handicraft at home, improving skills, promoting the idea and explaining its usefulness to a wider population…
After the annexation of Estonia Soviets quickly banned all organisations that formed the backbone of Estonian civic society; the EFACU was disbanded as well.
It was re-established in 1992 in the newly independent state. Since 1992, a head of the Union has been Liivi Soova. The Union has re-established branches all over the country and by now has members in every county of Estonia. The Union cooperates with all main Estonian museums and art and craft schools. The Union has its own Training Center, and the National Costume Advisory Board has also sprung to a new life.www.folkart.ee

FINLANDThe Finnish Crafts Organization Taito
Together with local crafts and design associations, the Finnish Crafts Organization Taito forms the Taito Group. Taito is a close-to-earth expert organization that has promoted Finnish crafts as a medium of culture, skill and a livelihood for over a hundred years.
Taito Crafts Centres provide the opportunity of making articles oneself and learning through courses and in crafts schools. Taito Group makes Finnish crafts and design visible through the web and varied publications and exhibitions. For professionals in crafts and design, Taito offers expert services for business development.
• more than 140 Crafts Centres all over Finland
• 280 permanent employees
• 8500 members
• over 100 000 customers in workshops every year
• 30 000 customers on courses every year
• nearly 450 craft school groups and over 4000 studentswww.taito.fi

HUNGARYHungarian Heritage House
The Hungarian Heritage House is a national institution founded in 2001 by the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Cultural Heritage with the purpose of preserving and promoting Hungarian folk tradition. The HHH is comprised of three units, each of which contributes to this aim in its own unique way. The HHH welcomes all enquiries, and aims to meet all requests in connection with Hungarian folk tradition.
The “László Lajtha” Folklore Documentation Center aims to make the vast and precious collection Hungarian folk treasury available to all who is interested in it. The Documentation Center is accessible on-line as well as in hard copies at the Corvin tér seat of the HHH.
The Applied Folk Arts Department organizes courses, conferences, dance houses and play-houses, as well as inviting applications, publishing music and dance CDs and DVDs and judging works of contemporary applied folk art. The Department is ready to cooperate with any cultural institutions wishing to get acquainted with Hungarian folk art, and welcomes individual enquiries as well.www.hagyomanyokhaza.hu

  Hungarian Folk Artist Association – NESZ
The Folk Art Associations (HIPC), 25-year history of non-governmental organization since its inception as the main objective of the traditional Hungarian folk values of support for the folk art of people’s unity, regional associations, organizations set up. The Association of professional representation,the continuous contact, to coordinate activities and ensure mutual exchange of information. In addition, the beginning of the HIPC activities include events, exhibitions, fairs settlement of the tender dossier professional training, organizing camps.
Alliance with 51 member organizations across the country, nearly 5,000 membership. The HIPC is held every year since 1987 the Hungarian craftsmen largest national event to the Crafts Fair in the Buda Castle. Member organizations of the four days of master craftsmen working through workshops presented in the traditional Hungarian crafts. The event is simultaneously present in the tradition crafts, live folk music and folk dance. This event is a growing professional recognition and success of tourism to us.www.mesterporta.hu

NORWAYNorwegian Folk Art and Craft Association
Vision: We create the future!
The Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association is a non-governmental organization founded in 1910. Our main objective is to maintain, strengthen and continue the development of this very much alive culture in Norway. We sustains these traditions through
· quallity – tradition – heritage – creativity
We achieve our objective through organizing activities and measures that generate the public and professional engagement. It`s needed in order to strengthen the know-how, production and turnover within our field of traditional folk handicrafts.
Our member count is approx. 23 000; distributed throughout local member divisions – our traditional folk handicraft stores – our professional handicraftsmen. www.husflid.no

POLANDThe Foundation Cepelia – Polish Art and Handicraft
The main purpose of the Foundation “Cepelia” is to protect, to develop and to promote the folk and artistic handicraft, the artistic industry. The foundation acts independently, and also with commercial partners, the chain of own shops and galleries in Poland.The Foudation acts in order to cultivate and create new values of the Polish art and culture not only in the country but also aboard, and particularly: supports ethnographic research in the art and the handicraft sphere, organizes contests, exhibitions shows, creates and leads art galleries, protect the regional folk groups, organizes the contests, exhibitions, reviews, supports publishing houses, connected with the statutory activity of the Foundation, gives rewards in contests, organized by museums or associations. Over 60 years Cepelia fixed its position in the people’s consciousness.The ethical obligation of the Foundtation is to protect “the dying beauty”.www.cepelia.pl

SLOVAKIACentre for Folk Art and Craft
The Centre for Folk Art and Craft (ÚĽUV) is a contributory foundation of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic, and since 1945 fulfils a function of documentary and informatory centre of folk art and craft, which has been in 2009 extended of the aperation of the Museum of folk art and craft and its collecting activities.
In its operations ÚĽUV integrates activities which lead to preservation and development of the traditional folk art and craft as one of the main segment of the Slovak National Cultural Heritage. In this sense it operates with all interested persons, supporters, promoters and manufacturers, who develop contemporary folk production. Currently it cooperates with more than 1 500 craftsmen.
The main activities of ÚĽUV are: documentation of traditional crafts and folk production, care of collections and documentation Funds, issuing professional publications and magazine on crafts, organizing of the exhibitions, festivals and crafts presentations, organizing voluntary courses of craft making, promotion of folk art production and consulting, library and information services, international cooperation with partner institutions.
The main mission of ÚĽUV is to protect, document, promote folk art, and its preservation for the future generations. It uses the knowledge, skills of the craftsmen, and aesthetic richness of the patterns used in the work with natural materials.www.uluv.sk

SPAINFoundation of innovation of Spanish Craft
The Spanish Foundation for Innovation in Craft (Fundesarte) is a national public foundation, created in 1981. It is a non-profit making organization attached to the Directorate General for SME Policy of the Spanish Ministry for Industry, Tourism and Trade.
The mission of Fundesarte is to work, together with administrations and artisans, for the promotion, professionalization and success of small craft businesses, within the framework of the public policies established at state level for SME. Its programs are orientated towards innovation to cope with the new situations that the market is requiring. The vision is to position Spain as the best place to create, see, buy and collect CRAFT.www.fundesarte.org

SWEDENSwedish Handicraft Society
SHR, the Swedish Handicraft Societies’ Association, is a nonprofit organization working to preserve, promote and develop handicrafts, both by culture and business. Our vision is to give every person the opportunity to discover the beauty, usefulness and the joy of handicrafts.
SHR also run a national handcraft school http://www.saterglantan.se/index_en.php



Despite Smith being our most common surname (think also of Potter, Turner, Cartwight, Miller, Thatcher) and many of our cities having grown from craft industries; Sheffield cutlery, Northampton shoes, Wallsall Sadlery, Luton Hats, High Wycombe chairs, Stoke pottery, traditional crafts are still not recognised as being part of our culture or our heritage. They should be, they should be promoted and supported, Sheffield not recognising cutlery as part of it’s heritage is like Stratford not recognising Shakespeare.

The Heritage Crafts Association are campaigning to get this situation changed. We hope to influence the new government and make sure that as funding cuts are underway and NDPB’s get amalgamated that a government organisation gets traditional crafts included within it’s remit.

There is so much that could be done, like the countries above we could have a national craft school to pass skills on. We could have a high profile traditional craft shop in London. We could recognise our best craftspeople as “National Living Treasures” and promote them as part of our tourism offer. Imagine an equivalent to “Crafts” magazine just dealing with traditional crafts. We could have an annual national show of the best traditional crafts in a prestigous venue, the equivalent of “Collect“. We could teach traditional crafts to children as a way of letting them understand who they are and where they are from. Sheffield children making spoons and Stoke children making a bowl and taking it home to eat their breakfast from.These are all ideas which are done and supported with government money in other countries and it is just the sort of support that all the other creative industries in the UK receive.

Instead we are cutting knitting in Shetland blacksmithing, thatching, wheelwrighting at Hereford Weaving in Dundee.

Let us make sure that we pass our skills on to the next generation with pride as they do in Sweden at Saterglantan.

2 Responses to Why are traditional crafts not supported in the UK?

  1. MarGorsson June 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    Totally agree with you – Crafts is more about designers and conceptual craft these days rather than makers. I am very concerned that the traditional knowledge base will soon be lost. ~ Is there scope for a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund ? You would need to ensure that community involvement/ partnerships was at the heart of application.

  2. sorazora April 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    In total agreement with you. We sell organic craft materials as opposed to crafting and don't fit into most craft fairs parameters. Lack of support for traditional craft is just one of many things on the list as to why this country has gone down the pan!A lot of our focus is on hemp and nettle, but are forced to import, damn shame!Nathanwww.sorazora.com