Last week the Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) launched itself and called together traditional crafters for a forum. Yours truly were present at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for the occasion.
HCA describes them self as following:
"The Heritage Craft Association was set up because of the urgent need for action to help maintain, and to continue into the future, the traditional crafts that fall outside the remit of any existing body or organisation".
and their focus is:
"...not on craft products as such, but rather on the transfer of skills and knowledge crucial for crafts' ongoing existence...".
A part of preserving these skills and knowledge is supporting professional crafters as well encouraging hobby crafters.
At the forum three questions were discussed: The first question was why are crafts important and this lead to an interesting discussion about the use of crafts and why these skills must not disappear. There were two main arguments; one was that crafts are a part of our cultural heritage, and another was focused on the therapeutic value. In a world were things move so fast and so many people suffer from Internet addiction as keynote speaker Prof. Ewan Clayton reminded us. Engaging in crafts is a good way of reclaiming perspective. It teaches adults and children to focus and gives them confidence. While the first argument supports the need to keep craft skills alive by supporting professional crafters, the second supports the need to encourage people to do more crafts on a hobby level. Simply for the sole purpose of getting a better quality of life.
The next question was focused on the key challenges for the survival of heritage crafts. Unfortunately this in our view became more focused on issues faced by professional crafters today. Among others the lack of financial support to take on apprentices, which means that some crafts are at risk of dying out. We on the other hand fear that a negative attitude to this question of dying crafts will eventually be the death of them. We believe that a more positive approach of creating visibility around your craft is more likely to work.
This brings us to the last discussion point: how can we collectively tackle these challenges? Some of the ideas we heard at the forum made good sense, such as appearing more at craft shows and appealing to the fact that "people love to make things". Using the media will probably also help a lot, in view of what programs such as Time Team has done to the public perception of archaeology. Maybe trying to find and promote industry champions in a way that Jamie Oliver is to food would help. We would suggest trying to bridge the gab between professionals and hobby crafters by encouraging the professionals who have the equipment and mentoring skills to not only have weekend courses but to allow hobby crafters access to these skills and equipment through an open access studio principle. This would enable and encourage hobby crafters who can't or don't want to make a living of their craft to still develop their skills. Like a sort of part time apprenticeship with the main focus on passing on the skills and not on making money.
The event was a wonderful chance to meet a lot of very enthusiastic British crafters and we truly enjoyed engaging in the many lively discussions over the day. By the end of the day there was no one solution on how to safe crafts for the future, but we definitely had a more detailed view of the perspectives involved and most importantly, we felt inspired. Not bad for a day spent in London.
One of the topics at the forum was how HCA define heritage crafts. Chair Robin Wood has answered this question by writing a blogpost on the history and definition of crafts, traditional crafts and heritage crafts. Finally HCA has also released a press release about the launch!
Eddie and Helene